By Michael Held
Special to the Johnstonian News
KENLY—As there’s been no escape from the heat for the North Johnston and Princeton girls tennis teams in the early portions of their nonconference schedule, both teams have instead persevered despite the high temperatures as well as some stiff competition and enter conference play this week playing their best tennis of the season.
In a scorcher of an afternoon, North Johnston handled Princeton 6-0, but both teams feel they are in good position entering conference play.
Panthers look to defend EPC title
For the Panthers, a second win over Princeton last Wednesday has North Johnston at 5-3 heading into a key Eastern Plains Conference opener against Beddingfield this Thursday.
Looking to defend the EPC crown his 18-win squad secured a season ago, coach David Anderson has created a nonconference schedule this year that he feels has the Panthers (5-3) battle-tested. Matches against 3A county foes Clayton and West Johnston as well as Hunt and Greene Central later in the season have been put there for a reason.
“It really prepares us,” Anderson said of the tough nonconference schedule. “I believe we are playing the best tennis we have played this year. I am so proud of the work effort and the attitude of all the young ladies. Tennis can be a mental sport, and our ladies are very positive.”
Leading the pack are seniors Maira Teruel and Olivia Gachuz.
Teruel, who Anderson described as a “workhorse,” sports a 5-3 singles record as the team’s No. 1-seeded player. The composed Gachuz improved her to 8-0 after defeating the Bulldogs’ Katie Leslie 8-2 last Wednesday in North Johnston’s sweep.
“They’ve been stepping up,” Anderson said of his two senior leaders. “But, I have to say that all the way down the line, even the new girls, they’re working their tails off in this heat.”
Juniors Samantha Davis and Hayli Appell and sophomores Arial Pearce and Hannah Sherrod all possess winning records entering this week’s matchup against undefeated Beddingfield.
Improving Bulldogs have eyes set on conference
First-year coach Sylvia Bartlett loves the mix of players who make up the Princeton girls tennis team this season. A balanced group of experience and youthful potential had Bartlett excited about her squad’s chances as it started Carolina Conference play at Rosewood this Tuesday.
“Once they got over the heat, they’ve been having fun,” Bartlett said. “We’ve got some good experience on the court and then we’ve got some new (players). They’ve been so impressive in how they help one another.”
Although two matches against the talented North Johnston team as well as matchups against Eastern Wayne and Spring Creek have Princeton at 0-4 heading into this week, Bartlett has liked the improvement she has seen with her girls, especially after working on improving their footwork to help court coverage.
Seniors Lauren Lawhon and Katie Leslie lead Princeton at No. 1 and No. 2. A couple of soccer players trying out tennis for the first time, Rachel Creech and Lydia Pearson, are also in the mix as are sophomores Maecy Blake and Breanna Dye.
Pearson has picked up a singles victory at No. 6 and has also teamed up with Katlyn Askew for a doubles win early in the season.
As for expectations of the group, Bartlett says there’s not a day that goes by that the team doesn’t discuss wanting to qualify for regionals.
“We definitely want to qualify and as far as the conference, we’ll take (number) one,” said Bartlett, smiling. “We’re working for it every day. This is what we keep our eye on is to win the conference and I think we have the potential because we’ve got some talent spread all the way through.”