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Gryphons girls' tennis team opens season with five consecutive wins

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Rocky Mount High's Caroline Broderick returns a shot during her No. 1 singles match against Southern Nash's Iris Radilla on Thursday at Southern Nash High School.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Friday, September 13, 2019

BAILEY — Caroline Broderick spent most of Thursday’s doubles match against Southern Nash on the right-hand side of the court. In previous seasons, the Rocky Mount High girls’ tennis player would sometimes switch sides with her doubles teammates when returning serves.

That doesn’t happen often, now. Broderick, a right-handed player, aims to take advantage of her improved backhand stroke that sent balls screaming over the net for points in the Gryphons’ 9-0 Big East Conference win.

“I didn’t always use that as much as I do now,” Broderick said of the backhand. “This year I’m playing the backhand side in doubles. It allows us to take advantage of our strengths.”

Broderick and teammate Carson Browder improved to 5-0 this season after Thursday’s win. The success has many parallels with the team’s success as RMH is off to a hot start. The Gryphons are 5-0 and have won four matches by 9-0 margins.

RMH coach Charlie Lawrence Jr. lost his No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 players to graduation, and the returning players slotted up and have played well.

“It’s a good group of girls who work hard,” Lawrence said.

The Gryphons have a senior-heavy roster with five in the starting lineup. Freshman Emily Bennett is the lone non-senior and was able to crack the lineup this year at the No. 5 singles position. Bennett has a 4-1 record and moved to 3-1 in doubles.

Bennett said she played tennis in middle school, and wasn’t sure what to expect when coming out for the high school team.

“It’s going all right,” she said of her time on varsity. “It’s been a little stressful at times because you’re playing against older kids who have a lot more experience.”

Lawrence, a second-year coach, works with the players on footwork as well as being strong mentally, which becomes a factor when playing a third match in as many days. He also sent words of confidence Broderick’s way when she faced a tough opponent that she hadn’t beaten throughout high school in Wilson Fike’s Logan Adkins.

Broderick has been playing at the top singles position for RMH for three years, and the Fike senior has beaten her each meeting. And while Broderick said that much about the game and her approach to the game has remained the same, a few new wrinkles in her game has put her over the top.

“I took her to a third set the first time we played,” Broderick said. “I had never beaten her before Tuesday. So that was a good feeling.”

It’s also a sign that she’s improving.

Southern Nash, meanwhile, is working with an entirely new roster. Coach Brady Joyner had to replace seven players from last year’s team, including everyone who played a match. Joyner said he walked the hallways asking players to come out for the team, and got a solid bunch.

And despite the roster turnover, the Firebirds have competed tough.

Southern Nash opened the season with five consecutive wins, including four via shutout. The Firebirds have dropped the first three Big East Conference matches, but the team is improving.

“It’s important to make sure you’re learning and have a good time,” Joyner said. “And they have made progress this season.”

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