The girls tennis team at Myers Park High knew what it was like to get to the 4A state title game -- and lose. Each of the past two seasons they entered the 4A state finals at Burlington Tennis Center undefeated at 16-0. Both times they lost to Panther Creek High.
But this season was different. Coach Ed Flynn and his girls beat Green Hope High 5-4 on Nov. 12 in a dramatic 4A state, dual championship match.
The Mustangs are state champions. The title didn’t come easy.
Leah Wallihan and Serena Evans had to erase a 6-2 deficit in their doubles match, winning eight straight games to win No. 1 doubles. That clinched Myers Park’s first girls state title since 2008. Evans put away a volley for the game-winning point.
The Myers Park girls’ tennis team, who has played in the state final six of the past nine years, was runner-up in 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2015.
“It was extremely exciting to finally walk off that court with a victory and a state championship and to know we are getting that ring this time,” said Myers Park senior and No. 1 singles player, Maddie Weber. She also was named the 4A state championship’s most valuable player. “It’s even more sweet for the seniors, who have lost (in the finals) the last two years. Now, this is what we are going to remember for the rest of our lives.”
Flynn said he believed this was their year.
“Our team had been talking about this and focused on getting back to this match since we lost to Panther Creek last year,” said Flynn, in his 13th year as the Myers Park girls’ tennis coach. “Everybody on our team believed this was our year It was a total team effort, we got contributions from up and down the lineup.”
The Mustangs had a nice blend of experience and talent with Weber, junior No. 2 singles player Wallihan, freshman No. 3 Evans, sophomore No. 4 Emily Holderness, senior No. 5 Katie Soden and freshman No. 6 Halle Futch.
The Mustangs were 21-0 this season, including 10-0 to win the Southwestern 4A Conference championship, and won 161 of the 171 individual matches.
“I think winning the state championship is starting to sink in, because of all the well wishes and congratulatory messages we’ve gotten from everyone,” Flynn said. “But winning 161 of 171 matches is not going to sink in any time soon.”
The Mustangs rolled to 5-1 wins in the first and second rounds before running into a familiar foe in Charlotte Catholic (also unbeaten at the time) in the 4A state semifinals (Nov. 9). Myers Park responded to the challenge as Weber, Evans, Holderness and Futch gave their team a 4-2 lead after singles’ play. Weber and classmate, Katie Soden finished off the Cougars (10-3) in their doubles’ match.
“The Charlotte Catholic win really helped us out going into the finals,” Flynn said. “We hadn’t had a close match before then, so we saw that we could step our games and win tight matches when we had to.”
Myers Park would need everything they had in the state championship match, where they quickly got down 3-0 in singles’ play. At that moment, Flynn says he saw Weber and Wallihan have a quick chat in their respective singles’ matches, being played next to each other.
“We knew that we were down 3-0 at that point and it added some pressure, because we had to win,” Weber said. “We both knew we had to step up our games, because every point was going to count in this kind of a match.”
Wallihan and Weber both won. Futch and Holderness won their doubles’ match, 10-3, give the Mustangs a 4-3 lead. But Weber and Soden lost their doubles’ match, 10-5 to tie the match.
At one point, it didn’t look good, as Evans and Wallihan trailed Anastasia Horvat and Cynthia Xiao, 6-2. That’s when they won eight straight games to capture the title.
“Leah is such a competitor, I remember that day she was still irritated that she lost her singles’ match against Charlotte Catholic,” Flynn said. “You could see her game transform when they got down 6-2. She was not going down like that. Then, she and Serena just found the energy from somewhere and got on a roll and made every big shot.”
As soon as Evans and Wallihan shook their opponents’ hand, the rest of the Myers Park team flooded the court in celebration.
“It didn’t look good for a while against Green Hope, when we were down, but this team kept fighting,” Flynn said. “To win it in the final match was exciting. No one can say that this team didn’t earn it. It was definitely satisfying to comeback, to come through in the clutch when we needed it most.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.