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KENLY — Members of the North Johnston High girls tennis team attribute a confidence-building start in the early part of the 2019 season to a summer full of hard work.
Back when the sun was even hotter than it is in the last week of August, and since practices began this school year, the team has been focused on working to make each other better everyday. It showed on Wednesday.
Playing pro-style sets for both singles and doubles, the Lady Panthers (5-1) beat Princeton 9-0 to continue their stretch of solid wins, compiling their fourth shutout in six matches.
“The girls have put in the work ...” head coach David Anderson said. “They’re getting better everyday and I was surprised with how well they did today because it’s the third match in a row this week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and they’ve put a lot of effort in.”
Anderson said every season he tries to build a competitive slate to start the year before opening up 2-A Eastern Plains Conference play. Noting in particular the “really good athletes” his program saw against West Johnston, Princeton and Rosewood, he believes faring well against those programs has prepared his own to handle a tough stretch of games starting next week.
The next time North Johnston takes the court, on Sept. 3, it will travel to Beddingfield to battle in what both schools consider to be a tennis rivalry in recent years. Beddingfield and North Johnston have battled for EPC supremacy in recent years, with the Lady Bruins emerging as the 2018 champion. North Johnston prevailed the year prior.
“We play Beddingfield on Tuesday, which is our biggest conference competition, so just having a bunch of wins going into that is good,” senior Samantha Davis said. “Not last year, but the year before we beat Beddingfield, and last year they beat us, so it’s just kind of a coin toss to see who is going to win.”
In recent years, the battle between those two schools has been appointment viewing for local tennis fans. Anderson thought, comparing the resumes of the two schools this year, his team will be evenly matched once again against the Bruins (2-2).
Before the Lady Panthers could look that far ahead, though, they worked hard to head into rivalry week with momentum. By all accounts, North Johnston was in control from the start against the Bulldogs.
No. 6 singles player Ashley Bunn was the first player to defeat her opponent, making quick work of Princeton’s Adriana Torre-Gonzalez in an 8-0 sweep. Subsequent wins by Mayelly Oliveros and Alexia Dixon set up an early 3-0 lead while the remaining players, No. 1 Arial Pearce, No. 2 Davis and No. 5 Sarah Batten battled deeper into the set before emerging victorious.
Anderson was particularly proud of the play of Bunn and Dixon and loved to see the way Batten battled in the closest singles match of the afternoon.
“Sarah played her hard and won,” Anderson said.
Batten noted after playing Lydia Pearson for a second time, she faced an already-much improved adversary since the season-opener.
“She is really consistent. I think at first, I didn’t do as well,” Batten said. “At the end, I caught back up and put a lot more effort into it and I think my serves were really consistent and that helped me out a lot.”
Though her No. 5 player did not win in the end, Princeton head coach Sylvia Bartlett was equally impressed with how Pearson competed against Batten.
“My No. 5 was on point,” Bartlett said. “She did a great job.”
While Anderson saw reason to be proud of his players fight, Bartlett was encouraged by the improvements her Bulldog team (1-2) has already made since the season started, executing longer volleys and performing better at the net.
“I think we’re on our way,” Bartlett said. “If we can improve on a weekly basis like we did today, we’re going to be fine I think.”
The Bulldogs will have the chance to take another step in the right direction on Tuesday against Smithfield-Selma, a program they already beat earlier this week.
Batten’s rally to win rounded out a 6-0 performance through singles. With a win already in hand, the Lady Panthers continued to dominate in doubles play, with Pearce-Davis, Dixon-Batten and Oliveros-Bunn all winning on courts 1, 2 and 3, respectively.
Looking ahead to tougher competition and a big match ahead, Batten said there wasn’t a specific recipe for continuing success. The best way to keep winning, she said, is pretty simple.
“I think we just need to keep practicing,” Batten said.
NORTH JOHNSTON 9, PRINCETON 0
Arial Pearce (NJ) def. Tinsley Moore 8-3; Samantha Davis (NJ) def. Breanna Dye 8-3; Alexia Dixon (NJ) def. Katelyn Askew 8-0; Mayelly Oliveros (NJ) def. Maecy Blake 8-1; Sarah Batten (NJ) def. Lydia Pearson 8-5; Ashley Bunn (NJ) def. Adriana Torres-Gonzalez 8-0.
Pearce-Davis (NJ) def. Moore-Dye 8-1; Dixon-Batten (NJ) def. Askew-Blake 8-1; Oliveros-Bunn (NJ) def. Adriana Torres-Gonzalez-Pearson 8-2.
Neuse Charter volleyball rattles off wins
The Neuse Charter volleyball team is 3-0 after a number of victories in the first week of the season.
The Cougars beat nearby foe Smithfield-Selma on Aug. 20 in three sets, 25-19, 25-8, 25-18, then followed it up with a 25-22, 25-16, 25-23 sweep of North Johnston on Aug. 22.
On Saturday, the team competed in the Wayne County Classic Tournament at W.A. Foster Recreation Center in Goldsboro and finished in third after beating Rosewood, Wilson Christian and Eastern Wayne.
The Neuse Charter junior team also beat SSS and North Johnston in straight sets.
Smithfield-Selma cross country defeats North Johnston
In a home meet, the Spartan runners swept through North Johnston as both the boys and girls teams finished with a perfect score of 15. North Johnston accounted for 50 points.
In the boys race, Smithfield-Selma captured the top eight positions with North Johnston’s top finisher, Tristan Galla, coming in ninth. Fernando Cruz came in first with an 18:50 time, followed by Alex Topoly with a 19:28 time.
Roman Pena followed behind a few minutes later with a 22:51 time, while Mohamed Mohamed finished fourth at 23:29 and Jack Helmer rounded out the top five at 24:11.
In the girls meet, Mary Kate Niswonger won the race with a 27:21 time, followed closely by Olivia Garvey at 25:53. Carolina Leegins of North Johnston finished third with a time of 28:11, Neysha Aparicio came in at 29:31 and Cristina Martinez came in fifth at 30:13.