The Myers Park girls’ tennis team knows what it’s like to be undefeated.
Each of the last two seasons, Coach Ed Flynn’s teams have gone into the 4A state championship dual match with a 17-0 record. But in each of those championships, the Mustangs’ season ended in disappointment -- a loss to Panther Creek. The Mustangs lost 5-0 in the 2014 final, and 5-1 in the 2015 title match. But the back-to-back 4A state runners-up are more determined than ever.
“To be undefeated the past two years and then have Panther Creek just shut us down was really tough to swallow,” said Leah Wallihan, the team’s No. 2 singles player. “But now that (Panthere Creek) has graduated a lot of players, and there’s not this dominant team out there, we see that opportunity, and we know it’s going to be our best chance and our best team for the next few years.…We’ve worked very hard to get another opportunity to win a championship. We hope it’s our year this time around.”
Flynn has taken five of his last eight girls’ team to the 4A state finals, winning it all in 2008, while earning runner-up in 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2015. Flynn’s girls’ teams are a combined 138-17 since 2008.
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“I know this team is motivated by having come just one win short the past two years,” said Flynn. “Losing in the state finals is tough. But I believe this team believes that they can win it all. But, by no means do we think it’s going to be given to us, because we know there are a lot of good teams like Charlotte Catholic, Panther Creek, Green Hope and more.”
The Mustangs have won 140 of 142 matches this season. Their only two blemishes came in 8-1 wins over Hough and South Mecklenburg.
Myers Park is led by senior co-captains, Maddie Weber (No. 1 singles) and Katie Soden (No. 5 singles), but have gotten big contributions from up and down the lineup. Wallihan (No. 2 singles), junior Catie Holshouser (played a lot at No. 6 singles) sophomores, Emily Holderness (No. 4 singles) and freshmen, Serena Evans (No. 3 singles) and Halle Futch (No. 6 singles) also play big roles.
Meanwhile, seniors, Frances Perkinson and Lillian Curme, juniors Elisabeth Drake and Hannah and Kate Leo as well as freshman, Anna Lassister, have all made the most of their opportunities.
“It’s rare to see a team where every player from top to bottom has contributed,” Flynn said. “All of our players realize that all they have to do is win their match, do their job that day. Everybody knows that each point is just as important and counts just as much as any other point. There’s a real momentum built in team tennis. When you see your teammate next to you winning or playing well, it’s almost contagious.”
While Myers Park has steamrolled their way through the season, they know tougher competition is coming. Weber said most of the team plays are on the USTA junior circuit, where they are used playing in close matches.
Meanwhile, Wallihan is constantly scouting their potential opponents, either in person or online. She admits her teammates even jokingly called her a “stalker,” because she is always trying to get information on their next opponents.
“The goal for this team is and has been to win a state championship,” Flynn said. “But my job now is to keep them focused, and remind them that they have four matches to win just to get (to the state championship round). We know we are going to get everyone’s best shot. We have to be prepared to win in the closer matches.”
The Myers Park team also hopes to do well in individual postseason, where they have gotten off to a good start as Weber has already won the SW4A singles’ title while Halle Futch was the league runner-up. But while Myers Park has a chance to succeed individually and as a team, there’s no question what their No. 1 goal is.
“It would be great to go out with a bang, and win a state championship, especially for the seniors like me, because it’s our last chance to get a ring,” Weber said. “We’ve worked so hard just to get there the last two years. To win it all in our last match, would make this season even more special.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.