CARY — The Lady Bears finished second in both singles and doubles at the state 1A tennis tournament Saturday.
Jordan Jackson couldn’t defend her singles title in the final, while her teammates lost in the doubles final.
Hannah Archer, Gray Stone Day, came into the final on a hot streak. She had beaten Jackson twice in the past seven days and breezed through her quarterfinal and semifinal opponents, dropping just three games in four sets.
Archer won the first set 6-0, but Jackson dug deep and played some of her best tennis of the year in the second frame.
Coach Scott Kniskern said there were times when it looked like Jackson was going to pull out the second set and force a third set against Archer. Unfortunately, she couldn’t quite pull it off and lost 6-4.
Still, against a player who had only dropped three games in two and a half matches, taking four games in one set was quite an accomplishment.
“I feel like I played the best tennis I could have possibly played,” Jackson said afterward. “I knew going into the match that it would be tough. I had so many chances to win games, but I just couldn’t close out the points. Hannah is an excellent player, and her consistency won out.
“This is not the perfect ending to my run in individual high school tennis, but I feel as if my loss today makes my one state championship title even more special.”
Jackson already has established herself as one of the greatest players in Surry County history.
She reached the semifinals of the state tournament all four years. She finished second twice and won the title last year.
Kniskern said he has been doing some researching in school records, and it appears that Jackson is now the winningest player in school history.
With the recent wins at the regional and state level, Jackson is up to about 110 wins, he noted. That puts her ahead of Elizabeth Bell (104) for the top spot on the girls’ side. Kniskern’s old teammate, Derek Slate, finished with 96 wins.
Bell and Slate both have been elected to the Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame, so the Hall will need to make a spot for Jackson.
As for her teammates, Davi Barbour and Haley Thomas were surprise winners at the conference and regional levels last year as sophomores. And, after beating their older teammates, Jade Hughes and Elizabeth Dinkins, in the conference championship, the juniors had high expectations for the state tournament.
“Davi and Haley, they played really well, but they were just a little off,” said Kniskern.
Thomas was more blunt.
“Davi and I played very well Friday both matches, and then this morning as if we haven’t ever picked a racquet up before,” she said.
“Gray Stone Day came out very strong and played very well,” Thomas noted. “They played the best I’ve seen them play as a team.”
Late in the match, the young player’s emotions started to show through. Gray Stone Day’s Libby Fowler and Brooke Herlocker won the first set 6-1 and were up 5-0 and serving for the title.
“In the second set Libby was serving and I was returning, and the score was 30-love. I knew then and there it was pretty much over. … I began to cry, knowing that all I worked for the entire year would be all gone in a matter of a couple minutes. All the sweat and hard work we had put in.”
Gray Stone Day finished off the game for a 6-1, 6-0 victory.
Kniskern said his girls were trying to be aggressive and go for winners, but the shots were just missing.
“It was more of a disappointment knowing we weren’t playing like I know Haley and Davi can play,” Thomas said. “We just had a really off day. That’s just something I know I can’t get back now, and it just hurts more than anything because we care so much for the sport and strive to win every match.
Unlike their teammates Dinkins, Hughes and Jackson, Barbour and Thomas will be back for another season.
“In the offseason Davi and I will put in a ton of work to go back next year and go for the 1A doubles state championship title,” she predicted.
With the individual playoffs out of the way, Kniskern said he will need to bring the girls back together, thinking like a team, for the final week of the dual-team playoffs.
The Lady Bears have reached the elite eight and need three more wins for back-to-back state titles.
Mount Airy hosts Chatham Central Monday at 4 p.m., weather permitting. The winner of that match is scheduled to play in the West regional final on Wednesday, then the state championship is back in Cary on Saturday.
Hurricane Sandy could greatly affect that schedule, and Kniskern hopes that doesn’t force teams have to cram in matches at the end of the week.
Kniskern quietly let a milestone slide by last week. He has been the Bears’ coach for the past five seasons and reached his 100th win on Tuesday.
His first squad lost six matches in that season, but over the past four years the Bears have dropped just seven matches. He now stands at 100-13, 88.5 percent.
The Bears have never shied away from good competition, either. The Bears schedule tough teams every season, like 2A powerhouse Salisbury, so that the girls can get better.
Kniskern said he is very proud of what his players accomplished in the individual playoffs, but he is always excited when it comes down to the last week of the dual-team playoffs.
Having seen how well the West played at the state tournament, Kniskern said one of the East coaches didn’t hold much hope of the East winning the dual-team title this season.
The coach said his counterpart said that his team would show up, but it was pretty obvious that whoever comes out of the West in Wednesday’s regional final would win the championship.
Reach Jeff Linville at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1920.