Mallard Creek High is best known for its nationally ranked football teams and for its boys’ and girls’ basketball programs, which have regularly challenged for conference and state titles over the years.
Joe Miller and a small group of players hope to put another one of the school’s sports in the public eye: the Mavericks’ girls’ tennis team.
While Mallard Creek has been overshadowed over the past few years by other area teams, the Mavericks have slid under the radar to become contenders in the tough MECKA 4A conference.
“We’re very overlooked,” said Alexus Morgan, the lone senior on Mallard Creek’s team. “We try to put our team out there and win every match that we can. We want to show that Mallard Creek has another team that’s unbeatable, and people would want to come and see as well.
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“Don’t underestimate us. … We have a will to win, so we should be one of the top teams in our conference and shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Morgan plays at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles for the Mavericks, who were 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the conference through Sept. 24. The whole team consists of just seven players, all of whom see action at one point or another during a match.
“We had the same girls from two years ago; they just weren’t as experienced,” said Miller, in his second year as Mallard Creek’s coach. “But they’ve got that experience now.”
The rest of the Mavericks team are a pair of juniors, Nyalah Shumake (No. 2 singles and No. 2 doubles) and Zakiya Wilson (No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles); sophomores Lauren Gullett (No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles), Olivia McPhaul (No. 6 singles) and Paulina Ashe-Reeder (No. 3 doubles); and freshman Mithi Shukla (No. 5 singles and No. 3 doubles).
“The Nos. 1 through 4 are the core of this team,” Miller said. “Nyalah was our No. 5 (in singles) last year … and our Nos. 2 through 4 have improved drastically from last year.
“Alexis has certainly improved at No. 1, but the level of jump at 2 through 4 has been huge. They are much better players than they were last year, and we’ve needed that. It’s because they’ve put in so much work.”
Miller attributes a lot of the improvement in Mallard Creek’s program to two things: the Mavericks’ top players all played in USTA junior tournaments over the summer, and they take part in the tennis program at the nearby Sugaw Creek Recreation Center.
“They have a bunch of kids playing tennis (at Sugaw Creek),” said Morgan, who transferred to Mallard Creek from Harding for her junior year. “It’s a great place for people to work on their skills, try things they want to learn or work on things they want to perfect. ... We all go down there to work on things from time to time.”
Last year, the Mavericks finished third in the I-Meck 4A standings. But they made their first appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A dual-team playoffs by a wild-card berth.
Mallard Creek won its first-round match 8-1 over Porter Ridge but lost to Winston-Salem Reynolds 5-1 in the second round.
In the MECKA 4A, two new teams (A.L. Brown and Jay M. Robinson) have replaced Lake Norman. Miller said the new conference gives this year’s team a good chance of avoiding the wild card berth.
Mallard Creek, which also will host the conference tournament Oct. 8-9, dropped its only conference match to Hough earlier this season.
“Our only two losses in conference last year were to Hough and Lake Norman,” Miller said. “We don’t have Lake Norman to worry about anymore, but we’ve got two new teams in the conference that we haven’t faced before.
“Still, my guess is that it will come down to between us and North Mecklenburg for second place in the conference. They (North Meck) usually have a pretty good program.”