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Unbeaten Fike among many contenders for 3-A championship

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NCHSAA GIRLS TENNIS

Since the North Carolina High School Athletic Association began holding dual-team state championship playoffs for girls tennis in 1990, most 3-A teams in the East made it a goal to play for a state title. That’s because, with the lone exception of C.B. Aycock in 1997, no school east of Raleigh has won an NCHSAA 3-A girls tennis dual-team championship. Aside from a seven-year title run by East Chapel Hill and the three won by Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons in four years, the West has dominated 3-A girls tennis.

With the 3-A ranks swelling this year due to NCHSAA realignment, that could change on Championship Saturday, Oct. 28; however, the road to the East title seems a bit tougher.

“The level of competition has gone up. There’s more competition and better teams,” Fike head coach Lee Matthews said. “I think you’ve added some teams in the East that can compete on even footing with the West.”

Matthews will take an undefeated team to the postseason for the fourth time as his Lady Demons, 17-0 and champions of the Big East Conference, are just one of two unbeaten teams among the 16 3-A East teams, along with Clayton. Matthews knows how difficult it has been to get to the state championship match. His 2002, 2006 and 2008 teams entered the postseason with perfect records but only the 2008 squad made it to the state championship match, losing 6-0 to Asheville T.C. Roberson. Matthews also directed the 2009 and 2010 teams to the Eastern final but Chapel Hill and Cardinal Gibbons, respectively, were waiting to take Fike out.

While Cardinal Gibbons has moved up permanently to 4-A, the 3-A East bracket includes such former 4-A teams as New Hanover, East Chapel Hill, Fayetteville Cape Fear and Clayton. East Chapel Hill, in its first season back in 3-A in more than a decade, is 17-2 and ranked No. 2 in the classification in the North Carolina High School Tennis Coaches Association. Fike is No. 6 and New Hanover (17-3) and Chapel Hill (15-2), whose only losses are to East Chapel Hill, are tied for eighth.

Adding to the enhanced level of competition in the 3-A East is the absence of C.B. Aycock for the first time ever from the dual-team playoffs. Because the Lady Falcons, who finished 12-5, compete in a split conference with just five 3-A teams, their third-place finish wasn’t good enough and D.H. Conley (11-2) got the lone 3-A berth from the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference. Also left out from the ECC was a 10-2 J.H. Rose squad.

Fike will host Greater Neuse River Conference No. 2 Cleveland (11-4) in Wednesday’s opening round. If expectations hold up, Fike will face New Hanover in a very tough second-round match. Matthews thinks his team is capable of doing better than last year when, as the No. 1 seed in its sub-region, it was eliminated by Fayetteville Terry Sanford in the second round.

“I think New Hanover is a good team but they’re not going to overpower us like Terry Sanford did last year,” said Matthews, who picked Fike’s Big East rival Rocky Mount to upset Clayton in the first round.

Despite losing last year’s No. 1 singles player, Cameron Milne, Fike has not missed a beat in 2017. The Lady Demons have not lost at No. 1 doubles and have dropped just one match at No. 2 doubles.

Sophomore twins Jena and Macy Hebbard won the Big East doubles crown last week, topping teammates Logan Adkins-Anna Blair Thomas in the final.

“That’s been part of the secret — the doubles play,” Matthews said. “Nearly every time we’ve played we’ve won two out of three doubles matches, so that’s what you need to do.”

Individually, Macy Hebbard is 16-0 while Jena is 15-1. Adkins is 15-2, all at No. 1, while Avery Rose Brown is 15-1, giving Fike a very solid top four. Thomas and senior Rachel Boswell are solid at the bottom of the lineup as well.

Fike owns wins over Rocky Mount (5-4 and 7-2) and D.H. Conley (6-3) out of the 3-A East field but the Lady Demons have a long way to go to just reach the 3-A East final.

“It’s the reality for the next four years, so we’ve got to get used to it. It moves the bar up for us,” Matthews said.

MILNE THRIVING AT NCSSM

Milne was Fike’s No. 1 singles player for both of her first two years of high school, but now, as a junior, Milne has settled into the No. 5 spot for the unbeaten and 2-A top-ranked North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham.

Milne is 12-0 at No. 5 singles and she and No. 2 doubles partner Emma Wright are also 12-0. The duo earned a spot in the NCHSAA 2-A East Regional, to be held this weekend in Goldsboro. NCSSM has been the state 2-A runner-up each of the past four years.

2-A OUTLOOK

While Fike is the only 3-A team from The Wilson Times readership area to earn a state playoff spot, North Johnston, Beddingfield and Greene Central are in the 2-A bracket. North Johnston, which repeated as Eastern Plains Conference champion, takes a 17-2 mark into its first-round matchup with West Bladen (16-2), the No. 2 team from the East Central Conference.

The Lady Panthers, who have EPC singles champion and player of year Nina Bohunska at No. 1, have won 14 straight since a 6-3 loss Aug. 22 at Greene Central. Bohunska, an exchange student from Slovakia, is 17-0 in singles and 12-1 in doubles. North Johnston didn’t make it out of the first round last year but head coach David Anderson, the EPC Coach of the Year, has three seniors and three juniors in his lineup.

Beddingfield (10-5), the EPC runner-up, will visit No. 9-ranked South Columbus (17-1), the 2-A champion of the 1-A/2-A Three Rivers Conference, in the first round Wednesday. With a win, the Lady Bruins would likely face Milne and the Unicorns in round 2 next week.

Beddingfield boasts EPC doubles champion Karissa Hayes-Sabrina Wasilewski, 9-0 on the season. Wasilewski is 12-1 at No. 2 singles and 12-3 overall.

Eastern Carolina Conference champion Greene Central (17-1), tied with Yanceyville Bartlett Yancey at No. 4 in the state 2-A coaches poll, will take on Northeastern Coastal Conference runner-up Elizabeth City Northeastern (12-2) in the first round. Madison Holloman-Madison Tingen are 14-2 in doubles while Tingen is 16-2 over three different singles spots. No. 1 Taylor Williams is 13-5.

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