Dynasties are more common in high school sports than at other levels of sports.
Orange wrestling is very likely to win its 15 consecutive conference championship by month’s end. Northern Durham football won 18 consecutive PAC-6 Championships from 1984-2001. East Chapel Hill boys and girls tennis won seven consecutive 3A state championships from 1998-2004 under coach Lindsey Linker, who also coached six state championship boys’ squads.
So when the apple cart gets turned over, people take notice.
Perhaps Cedar Ridge Girls Tennis Coach Lennie Corbett knew that was going to happen before anyone else did this year. Chapel Hill has ruled the Big 8 Conference in 2015, rolling to a 10-0 record. In fact, they had a combined 67-2 record against their conference rivals.
In August, Corbett said “I’m looking for big things from these girls this year.”
Did that include winning the school’s first-ever conference championship in girls tennis? Yes, it did. Corbett just didn’t say so at the time.
There was already core leadership returning in top singles player Tess Johnson, a returning All-Big 8 performer who advanced to the 2nd round of the 3-A Mideast Regionals in 2015. Johnson would remain the top singles player throughout the championship season. There was also Leah Thompson, who qualified for regionals in doubles with Maddie Allen in 2015.
But there was also the secret weapons. Freshman Olivia Ward, the daughter of Person High tennis coach Lynn Ward, went 14-4 during the season. Senior Serena Sauers finished 15-1, while Thompson registered a 14-2 mark. Senior Hanna Spear finished 8-0, while junior Kate Miller went 14-1.
Of course, every championship season has to have a defining moment. For Cedar Ridge, that came on September 7th, when they traveled to Chapel Hill and stunned the Tiers 6-3.
Milner clinched the victory with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 victory over Rachel Thomas at #6 singles. Sauers defeated Sarah Combs 6-2, 6-4 at #3 singles, while Spear grinder out possibly the most important victory of the day, beating Megan Wu 3-6, 6-2, 10-8.
Ward clinched Cedar Ridge’s opening win with another three-set affair, beating Hailey Polska 6-4, 2-6, 11-9.
Thompson captured her match at #3 singles over Lauren Bolzan 6-4, 6-4, then teamed with Lutz to defeat Polska and Wu 7-7 (7-5).
On September 28, Cedar Ridge would clinch the Big 8 Championship by beating Chapel Hill again 5-1 in Hillsborough. The highlight of that day was Ward defeating Lauren Bolzano 6-2, 4-6, 10-6 to improve to 10-3 on the season.
Things would only get better during the Big 8 Tournament at Orange High Tennis courts. The Big 8 Doubles Championship match was an all-Cedar Ridge affair. Miller and Sauers captured the conference title by beating their teammates, Thompson & Lutz, 8-2.
In the most successful season in team history, the Red Wolves won its first playoff dual team match over Swansboro 9-0, then defeated Burlington Williams 5-3 to advance to the state quarters,. Ultimately, Terry Sanford ended the Red Wolves season.
Johnson, Thompson, Miller and Ward were all named to the Big 8 All Conference Team.
Cedar Ridge finished the most successful season in school history 19-2, 12-0 in the Big 8. They won 18 matches in a row, truly overturning conventional thinking, even if Corbett seemed to know before anyone else.