Three of the top six players from last year's state championship Providence Day girls' tennis team graduated. Another, senior Umarah Mughnee, sat out the season with an injury.
"We ended up with a lineup of four girls who weren't starting last year, whether it was doubles or singles," said Providence Day coach Ryan Harper.
That didn't stop the Chargers from beating previously undefeated Cary Academy 7-2 on a cold, windy day at High Point's Wesleyan Christian Academy and claiming their third straight N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A state championship.
Providence Day (20-2) only lost two individual matches in the playoffs on the way to their fifth title in six years.
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With the loss of seniors like Gabby Gabriel (who signed with Appalachian State) and the injury to Mughnee, the Chargers were left with just two returning starters. Harper said this year showed the importance of letting players deeper in the roster get playing time during regular season matches so they have experience.
Harper said he always felt like the team had the talent to win another state championship.
"They expected to win just because we'd been doing so well and they knew we had a good team, but a lot of confidence had to be built as the year went along," he said.
In late October, just three days before the state playoffs, the Chargers played in a tournament in California, winning two matches and losing two (the only losses all season). That experience helped prepare Providence Day for the playoffs.
"The competition was definitely higher level than what it is here," said senior Allyson Hoppe. "I think we wanted to prove something to ourselves (in the state tournament) because it was kind of disappointing how we lost in California."
After a bye in the first round, Providence Day, the top seed in the tournament, beat Durham Academy 9-0 and rival Charlotte Country Day 5-0 to advance to the championship.
The Chargers weren't sure what to expect with then-undefeated Cary Academy, but they were relaxed and confident entering the match.
"It just looked like everyone was having fun," said Harper about the championship match. "They got off to strong starts in almost every single match."
No. 1 junior Samantha Light, who transferred to the school from Blair Academy (N.J.), and No. 2 sophomore Alexandra Lee made the all-state team.
Junior Linley Busby held the No. 3 spot for most of the season while the only senior in the top six, Hoppe, played No. 4. Junior Mollie Sandler played No. 5 singles and sophomore Emma Pixley played No. 6.
"We really had three number ones and a bunch of number twos," said Harper. "That's how the team was, just that much depth."
The Chargers had new doubles pairings this year, with Light and Busby as the top doubles squad, followed by Pixley and Hoppe, then Lee and sophomore Katie Starr.
Hoppe and Lee played as doubles partners last year.
Hoppe and Mughnee are the only graduating seniors, so the turnover for the Chargers next year should be less than this year. With the players returning and the tennis tradition at Providence Day, the Chargers are looking forward to another title.
"You definitely just want to keep the tradition going," said Pixley. "You feel like we're supposed to win, we're expected to win. ... I want to win. I'm ready for another one next year."