The untrained eye would say Rocky Mount High was flawless Tuesday afternoon.
The Gryphons opened their defense of the Big East title with a convincing 9-0 win over Nash Central at home, controlling every match from the outset. They lost a combined eight games in the six singles matches, three of which ended 6-0, 6-0. Rocky Mount pummeled Nash Central with thunderous returns and powerful serves that matched the brutal heat in which the match was played.
But for coach Barry Nethercutt, Tuesday’s victory was a combination of his team’s play and the gap in talent between the two schools.
“We didn’t look too rusty at most spots,” Nethercutt said. “We kept the ball in play well and not too many unforced errors.”
Rocky Mount (6-1) did not look like a team that senior Katie Mizelle said was “uptight” and “apprehensive” before the match.
“We were nervous as a team starting conference because conference is such a big deal to us,” Mizelle said. “Once we got the first sets under our belts, we were all relieved and it made the second set easier.”
The Gryphons’ conquest in singles allowed nine players to see some match action in some form Tuesday. Senior Allison Binkley’s match against Brianna Eley was ongoing when the other five singles matches finished, and the coaches decided to begin the doubles portion without those two players due to the temperature. The Gryphons had already clinched the team win, so Nethercutt inserted three new players into the doubles lineup while leaving his top duo of Chandler Brice and Eliza Fike intact. Nethercutt said it was good experience for the younger players to play in a live match and was overall pleased with their performance.
However, Nethercutt, who still sees tremendous room for improvement in his team, would not describe the victory as dominant. He pointed to minute issues that were hidden by the gap in talent between the two schools as areas the Gryphons could improve upon.
Nethercutt said he felt like his team was not aggressive enough during Tuesday’s victory and wants to see his team to control points while not relying on the opposition making mistakes.
“We need to be able to dictate points a bit better,” Nethercutt said. “We’re always good at keeping the ball in play and not making a lot of mistakes, but we need to be able to also win points and not just keep the ball in play until the other girl messes up.
“We need to move people around. In doubles, we need to attack the net even more, get to the net more and finish points at the net more.”
Another point of emphasis for Nethercutt is communication between his doubles partners. Nethercutt had to urge the tandems numerous times to talk between points, and his advice helped the Gryphons’ No. 3 doubles pair rally from break point down to win a game.
Mizelle, a team captain, said her teammates need to trust Nethercutt and that as soon as they realize communication is helpful, they will buy into the process more.
“Once they start doing it and once they realize how effective it is,” Mizelle said, “once they realize that may be the difference between a win and a loss ... they’ll start doing it more.”