The result of the final singles match Tuesday evening did not necessarily matter, but the effort and determination is what makes successful girls’ tennis teams in October.
With her teammates supporting her near the fence and Rocky Mount High’s victory already secure, the only question remaining in the NCSHAA 3-A state playoffs match was when Katie Mizelle would finish off her opponent and allow the Gryphons to head home for dinner.
Mizelle stayed on the court for more than three hours to extend her singles winning streak to 15 matches and help Rocky Mount defeat Burlington Williams, 6-0, in the first round.
The Gryphons will play either Erwin Triton or Western Guilford next Tuesday in the second round.
“If I’m playing bad, I don’t want people watching me, but it helps having the team in the background supporting you,” said a relieved Mizelle.
Mizelle’s marathon three-set match at No. 6 singles symbolized the day for the Gryphons. None of Rocky Mount’s six victories were easy.
Mizelle trailed, 5-2, in the first set of her match.
Top-seeded Chandler Brice fell behind in hers, too, and the match nearly reached a third set.
Mary Blair Thompson dropped her opening set at No. 3 and needed a tiebreaker in the third to win the match.
If doubles were needed to complete the match, there was no way they were going to take place on the Gryphons’ campus because the daylight had faded away.
Rocky Mount coach Barry Nethercutt expected such a match for his players, who finished the regular-season as co-champions of the Big East and avoided a trip to state power Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons by defeating Wilson Hunt last week.
His scouting report of Williams came from a coach he knows, and that was all the Gryphons had to go by after spending the past month facing familiar Big East teams.
“There were several matches that were loseable,” Nethercutt said. “I feel like I tell them too much, but I didn’t know enough to tell them other than what I had heard. I think it played a part in their nerves – not knowing what to expect.”
The Gryphons have learned to trust their instincts, coaching and practice routines in matches like Mizelle’s.
“We’ve learned to stay tough and put in place the strategies Barry has been working with us on,” said Gryphons No. 5 player Allison Binkley.
The results have lent themselves to one of the program’s more successful seasons in recent memory, and individual players have excelled, too.
In addition to Mizelle’s winning streak, No. 4 singles player Tanner Brice has not lost a match since the season opener.
It keeps Nethercutt and his players at ease when such matches as Mizelle’s hang in the balance.
“That’s very comforting to know we should win those matches,” Nethercutt said.
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or firstname.lastname@example.org