Oct. 14—While the four 3A teams and three 4A teams grouped into the new Sandhills Athletic Conference competed head-to-head throughout the regular season, Tuesday at Hoke County saw each cohort competing separately for trips to the individual regional tournament.
Regular-season champion Pinecrest walked the dog in the 4A tournament, taking both singles and doubles regional spots that were available. The Patriots' entire starting lineup will be moving on.
Southern Lee's freshman standout Genesis Gonzalez and her sophomore doubles partner Kate Jackson made sure the 3A half of the tournament was much more interesting.
Three regional spots were available for the 3A teams in both singles and doubles, but Gonzalez and Jackson needed just one of them. The pair went through the field with ease, winning three matches over the course of the day and taking the conference title. Union Pines grabbed the other two doubles berths and two of the three singles berths as well, but not all of the glory would go to the perennial tennis powerhouse from rural Moore County.
Union Pines, which was the top 3A dual team in the league and lost only to Pinecrest, saw two of its tennis players finish 1-2 in the singles tournament. Head coach John Frye assigned his top two singles players in the regular season to this tournament, where they received the top two seeds and a bye into the semifinals of the six-player event. In the finals, Tyne Ross beat Lily Slyman to win the conference's 3A singles title. Both players, along with Scotland's Olivia Aiken, will go to regionals. Aiken denied Southern's Evie Eller a trip with a 6-4, 6-1 win in the third-place match.
Southern Lee head coach Vickie Wilkins took a different tack from Frye, and entered her top players in the doubles. Despite being young, Gonzalez and Jackson had headed up Southern's lineup all season in both singles and doubles, and the Cavaliers had bested everyone they had faced, except for three teams that will all go into the state duals seeded as conference champions.
On Tuesday, they began the eight-team tournament with an 8-0 blanking of Scotland's Meagan Gunnels and Morgan Stewart. Union Pines' two entries in the doubles were paired off with teams from the two Lee schools. The Vikings' Abby Robertson and Madelyn Ragsdale held off Southern's Anna Boone and Kambell Beasley, 8-5. Becca Cameron and McKayla Kirk beat Lee's Madalyn Blanks and Lily Godfrey, 8-0. In the other quarterfinal, Scotland's Laura Wlodarczak and Samantha Collard downed Savannah Mullins and Peyton Koneski of Lee County, 8-0.
This meant it was Vikings vs. Cavaliers in one semi and Vikings vs. Scots in the other. Both matches ended in identical 6-1, 6-1 scores. Gonzalez and Jackson knocked out Robertson and Ragsdale to face Cameron and Kirk in the finals. They won the conference doubles title with a well-played 6-4, 6-3 victory in the finals. Robertson and Ragsdale then earned Union Pines a second regional berth by rallying to beat the Scotland team 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 for third place.
The 3A singles pitted Southern's Evie Eller against Lee's Grace Britton and Aiken against Lee's Brooklin Underwood. Eller and Aiken advanced, but neither did much against the two Union Pines entries in the semifinals. The real battle was for third and the last regional berth, which went to Aiken, 6-4, 6-1.
The Sandhills is part of the 3A Mideast Regional. Regional play will begin at 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 22 at the Burlington Tennis Center. Finals will be played the following day.
Representing Pinecrest in the 4A Regional at the Country Club of North Carolina on the same days and times are Brooke Lafrenz and Olivia Pratt in singles and Annecy Pratt-Astelle Kilpatrick and Claire Gully-Kaeton Clark in doubles.
The bracket for the upcoming dual-team playoffs will be announced on Monday. Pinecrest and Union Pines are in, and other teams in the league will have to hope for a wild-card invite.