The numbers for all four Wilkes County girls’ tennis programs this fall are up across the board.
The performances on the court have been evident this season and will look to continue heading into this coming week’s Mountain Valley Athletic Conference tournament.
The tournament will take place on Wednesday (rescheduled from today) at the Elkin Tennis Complex, starting at 1 p.m. From there, the girls who qualified for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association regional tournaments will then compete on Oct. 18-19.
The East Wilkes Cardinals have spent the fall working in three new players into the starting lineup on a fairly young squad after last year’s 15-3 campaign.
The season culminated with an MVAC title and a trip to the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A dual playoffs.
With 18 players on its roster, the Cardinals have just two seniors (Chelsea Cockerham and Lauren Felts), but are two players who Head Coach Aaron Simmons says, “are quintessential senior leaders” and has been improved with what they’ve brought to the table. The duo has spent the majority of the season playing doubles.
“Lauren is an offensive-minded player who likes to drive the ball at the first opportunity, and she has become a much strong net player with the addition of her improved volleys,” said Simmons. “Chelsea does an incredible job of keeping the ball deep and out of the strike zone for opponents. She also has a strong spin serve that is difficult to attack.”
Jordan Schubart returns after being an All-MVAC selection last year has faced the task of being the Cardinals’ top player.
She’s also the highest ranked player back from last year after playing No. 4 singles.
“Over the summer, she’s worked hard to transition into a top-three player, adding more pace to her strokes,” said Simmons. “She certainly has the most top-six experience of anyone on our team, so I expect her to show our less-experienced players how to prepare in practice each day.”
Juniors Sylvia Prevette, Brianna Martin and Kaleigh Couch have experience in the starting lineup
Prevette is new to the top six while Martin and Couch both played in the bottom half of the top six last fall. Prevette has played at No. 2 while Couch and Martin are at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively.
“Sylvia has worked hard on her game over the past year and eliminated weaknesses from her game and is able to change spins and pace very well,” said Simmons. “Brianna is an extremely consistent player who does an excellent job of minimizing unforced errors. Kaleigh is a young lady who just enjoys competing. She will give each match and practice everything she has.”
Sophomores Tristen Blevins and Kristie Brown are new to the Cardinals starting lineup and Simmons has seen both players make progress throughout the fall.
“Tristen is very offensive-minded and has beautiful ground strokes. She has developed the ability to change spins more and is moving confidently on the court,” said Simmons. “Kristie really understands the importance of depth and increasing angles with her shots. She puts a ton of pressure on her opponents by limiting their opportunity to be offensive. She does an outstanding job with her cross-court shots as well.”
The North Wilkes Vikings had 22 players come out this fall after going 2-12 last fall but according to Head Coach Brett Lyon, there is a level of inexperience.
But also room for potential.
“We have a very young team and our main goal for this season is to continue as both individual players and as a team. We’ve been able to get a few more team victories and improved on an individual level,” said Lyon. “We have a very promising group of freshmen who have a lot of potential and we are looking to help them become better tennis players.”
According to Lyons, Rebekah Wilson is the Vikings’ top player after playing at No. 3 last year.
Sophomore Allie Billings assumed the Vikings’ top spot earlier this fall and fellow tenth-grader Caelen Mahan is the Vikings’ No. 2 player.
Sophomore Sunny Johnson and freshman Sarah Gambill have played at No. 3 and No. 4 singles, respectively. Freshmen Taylor Wood (No. 5) and Brook Settle (No. 6) round out the Vikings top six.
“This is Rebekah’s third year playing tennis and she has become a really strong player during her tennis career,” said Lyon. “Not only is she a strong competitor, she is also an excellent team leader and has done a really good job of encouraging our younger players both during practices and matches.”
After losing All-MVAC selection Amanda Eddins to graduation, the West Wilkes Blackhawks have retooled this fall with large group of freshmen.
“I am excited that this gives the team a bright and solid future of tennis athletes for the program for years to come,” said West Wilkes Head Coach Angie Eddins. “
Zoey Albert leads that group and has quickly made an impact as the Blackhawks’ No. 1 singles players. She is player who Angie Eddins says, “is highly competitive with the skills to match.”
Seniors Rylea Church, Cassidy Miller, Davis Ritenour and Harleigh Walsh also lead West Wilkes, which went 8-6 last fall.
They’re joined by juniors Lizzie Church, Paige Phillips and sophomore Kendall Stanley. Church has occupied the Blackhawks’ No. 4 spot while Phillips and Stanley joined the top six midseason after playing the early part of the season primarily in doubles play.
“Rylea, Cassidy, Davis and Harleigh all have the skills and talent to help mix up the balance of our top players,” said Eddins. “Lizzie, Paige and Kendall have shown consistency and athleticism to challenge their way into the starting lineup.”
The Blackhawks recently finished second in the MVAC with a 12-2 mark — good enough to earn the league’s top 2A spot — and Eddins feels the team has accomplished many of the goals they set at the start of the season. West Wilkes also handed MVAC champion East Wilkes its only defeat of the fall.
“We wanted to have a winning record again this season and we hope to have an excellent showing at the conference tournament,” said Eddins. “I always intend to continue to instill integrity, ambition and fortitude in these student athletes.”
The Wilkes Central Eagles have seen plenty of success in new Head Coach Kennedy Lester’s first full year coaching Central tennis (she took over the boys team last spring) after a 4-11 campaign last fall.
But Lester’s main focus isn’t necessarily on winning this fall, but development.
“My goal this season has been to help develop the girls into stronger and smarter players while keeping the game fun,” said Lester. “At the end of the season, I don’t want to dwell on our record, but assess if each girl grew as a player and person. But of course, winning would be nice.”
Junior Kiaya Barber leads the way for the Eagles as the team’s No. 1 singles player — a position she is transitioning into after earning All-MVAC accolades last season.
“Kiaya is a dominant player on the court. When playing her, it’s almost like you’re playing tennis against a wall — she always finds a way to get the back over the net,” said Lester. “She leads our team by modeling how a match should be played. Her tenacity and hustle make her our best player.”
The Eagles only have one senior in No. 2 singles player Mackenzie Walker. Joining her in the top six are Riley Cearley, Isabelle Curry, Carol Vasquez and Caroline Langston.
“Mackenzie is the natural leader of the team,” said Lester. “She plays with such passion for the game and always has a smile on her face. I look forward to watching her help the other girls grow as players throughout the season.”