The Myers Park girls’ tennis team was perfect for the first 16 contests of the 2014 season, losing just 16 individual matches in that span.
While the Mustangs ultimately came up one win short, falling 5-0 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championship match to Cary Panther Creek (21-0) Nov. 1 at the Piedmont Indoor Tennis Center, Myers Park tennis coach Ed Flynn and his team enjoyed every minute of the journey.
Myers Park (16-1, 6-0 Southwestern 4A) had one of the program’s most impressive seasons, according to Flynn. The Mustangs won the SW4A conference title without dropping a match and beat traditional state powers Ardrey Kell, Providence High and Weddington twice this season.
Myers Park rolled to the state final, beating Ardrey Kell 5-1 in the first round, Providence 7-2 in the second round and Charlotte Catholic 5-1 to claim the 4A West Regional championship and advance to the state final.
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The Mustangs, 106-16 during the past seven years, won the 4A state title in 2008, were runners-up in 2009 and 2010, and made it the 4A West Regional final in 2011 and 2013.
“From the start this season, our goal was to work hard every day to see how good this team could be,” said Flynn, in his 11th year as the Myers Park head tennis coach. “These girls knew they could be really good and our seniors and leaders did a great job of reminding them what Myers Park tennis is all about. There were a lot of internal challenges by our players. No one wants to be the team to see tradition fall off. We want to win, because that’s what we do.”
Myers Park did it with a lineup including both experience and youth: two sophomores, two juniors and two seniors played in the top six.
Sophomore Maddie Weber (11-6 singles) played No. 1 singles and classmate Katie Soden (14-2) played No. 2. Soden’s older sister, Gaby Soden (12-4 singles), is at No. 3, and seniors Madeleine Fox (co-captain) and Zoe Holderness are No. 4 and No. 5, respectively. Junior Aubrey Bader plays No. 6 singles.
In doubles, the Soden sisters were the only regular duo at No. 1, going 8-5 together. Nos. 2 and 3 doubles changed often from match to match, with all 13 players on the roster – including Lillian Curme, Elisabeth Drake, Emma Drake, Emily Hall, Catie Holshouser, Catherine Neilson (co-captain) and Frances Perkinson – contributing at different times.
“It was really fun just to go to practice, because you knew you were going to be pushed every day,” Weber said. “You had to fight just to hold onto your position because you know any day someone like Katie or Gaby can beat you and take your spot. Our team was constantly motivating each other.”
“Our team is deep and talented from the top six and even deeper,” Fox said. “We never feel pressure to win our matches because we know somewhere in our lineup someone is going to step up and win. That allows us all to play a lot looser and a lot better.”
The Mustangs’ balance also enabled this team to embrace the challenge of a tough schedule and pressure-packed playoff run.
Flynn said his team enjoyed the big matches.
“This team enjoyed the challenge of going out and finding a way to get five wins,” Flynn said. “Match by match we had different people step up for us. In the playoffs, we just embraced each moment and enjoyed it. We knew each match, if we win, we do it again.”
While they knew it would be tough to knock off unbeaten Panther Creek, the Mustangs enjoyed the experience of the 4A state championship weekend, including a team dinner and bonding the night before the final.
“There are so many great moments to look back on this season that we will never forget,” Fox said. “The Catholic win to win the (4A West Regional title) and get to states was very special. We would have loved to win the state championship, but we just got beat by a better team.”
Four of the top six for Myers Park, as well as six other girls on the 2014 team, return next year, giving the Mustangs hope the team could be even better in 2015.
“We lose some great seniors, and that will hurt,” Weber said. “But I think this team’s future could be even brighter. We feel like we will have a few more shots at winning states. We look forward to the challenge of getting back and winning it all.”