University City

Mallard Creek fields young, talented team

Sophomore Spencer Cochran is Mallard Creek’s No. 1 singles tennis player and has the potential to win a state championship one day, according to her coach.
Sophomore Spencer Cochran is Mallard Creek’s No. 1 singles tennis player and has the potential to win a state championship one day, according to her coach. JOE HABINA

Joe Miller discovered Spencer Cochran’s potential last year as a high school tennis player. The Mallard Creek coach felt her arrival at the University City high school could not have come at a better time.

Cochran’s raw talent was evident but playing behind a couple of upperclassmen for a year was the optimum set up. She played No. 3 singles, rolled to an undefeated season and won the doubles title at the conference tournament – a first for Mallard Creek.

This year, Cochran climbed to the team’s top singles seed, putting her in position to prove her mettle against other school’s best players. She may be a year or two away, Miller says, but he feels Cochran has state championship potential as a singles player.

This season, at the very least, she will try to lead the Mavericks to a second straight visit to the 4A state dual-team tournament, and a fourth trip in Miller’s five seasons as coach.

“I really think she has a shot in the next couple years to win a state championship,” said Miller. “That would be really unique for Mallard Creek tennis. The sky is the limit for her.”

The Mavericks are coming off a season in which they finished second to Cornelius Hough in the MECKA 4A Conference standings for the second year in a row. Mallard Creek lost in the second round of the state tournament to Myers Park, the eventual state runner-up.

Cochran is among three starters returning from that team.

The others are sophomore Swathi Karthik, who climbed to the Mavericks’ second singles seed after playing No. 6 as a freshman, and junior Mithi Shukla, a third-year player who maintained her no. 4 position from last season.

Shukla spent time this summer working with Highland Creek tennis pro Mike Conroy. She concentrated on improving her serve and overall form.

Filling out the starting lineup are sophomore Tamia Bennett (No. 3), who plays doubles with Cochran, sophomore Yamina Panvarpagada (No. 5), who spent her summer playing at Charlotte Racquet Club North, and junior Aminah Carpenter, a consistent shot maker at No. 6.

“Our team overall has improved,” said Cochran. “I remember the first day of tryouts. I thought ‘Oh my goodness, we’re really good. We have a chance.’ I believe we can go far. We have such a young team that we have so much room for improvement, but we can go far.”

Cochran is the most experienced player of the group. She started playing in coach William Brown’s Sugaw Creek Park’s Junior Tennis Program when she was 5 years old but expanded her reach by playing in junior tournaments around the state starting when she was 11 years old.

Few weekends go by when Cochran isn’t playing in a junior tournament. She started playing in beginners level tournaments at the outset but has since moved to more advanced levels.

Last year for Mallard Creek, Cochran posted an 11-0 singles record, including 7-0 in conference. She and doubles partner Nyalah Shumate, then one of the Mavericks’ seniors, won the conference tournament.

When Mallard Creek played Myers Park in the state tournament, Cochran was the only Mavericks player to win a match. She defeated Gaby Soden in a third set tiebreaker.

Mallard Creek was 1-1 as of Aug. 31. The Mavericks will visit Concord Cox Mill on Sept. 10 and finish a suspended match, and then play a full, regularly scheduled match against the Chargers afterward.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: