CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte Catholic girls tennis team carried on its rich tradition by winning 22 consecutive matches down the stretch last season to capture the 2017 3A championship.
It was the Cougars 11th title since 1990 and their fifth since 2007, so the Cougar faithful have probably asked long-time coach Catholic tennis Jo Cabana hundreds of times if they can do it again.
Cabana is a straight shooter, but her honest answer has to be that she doesn’t know. There is certainly the talent at the top to do it, but a lot of it will rest in the laps of four freshmen who are being asked to contribute right away to a defending state champion.
But they’ve been up to the challenge so far and appear ready to carry the Cougar program into the future.
“It’s nerve wracking to come into this team that won the championship, but we all just have to do our bests,” freshman Kaitlyn Tozzi said.
Tozzi has been one of many who are making an impact, but it is something that has taken some time to get used to.
But the Cougar upperclassmen, spurred by the chance to repeat and the tradition of the program, have already taken care of that.
Logan Stuckey, the lone senior who is unbeaten in the No. 3 and 4 singles spots this season, organized an early season lunch to get the girls together. It’s a tradition, but something she thought may have been even more important with this particular team.
“We’ve done it every year and I think it’s a great way to start off the season and especially with four freshmen,” she said. “This year it was really important we all started off on a good note, and I think that helped us a lot. We have never had this many freshmen at once, so that’s been different. But it’s been really fun, too, because we have definitely bonded.”
Stuckey has done most of the heavy lifting as the rah rah leader, but the Cougars have the benefit of Rose Kenny, the defending Class 3A state singles champion, and sophomore Domenica Merino, who is unbeaten on Courts 3,6 and 7 this season, in their corner.
Kenny is the seventh-rated recruit in the state in the Class of 2019 and a high-major Division I prospect if she decides to play in college.
Kenny said she much prefers school tennis to the tournament circuit, and says this team has been especially fun as they’ve all come together.
“It’s fun to support my teammates and we all have each other’s back and you’re all a family,” she said. “When you go to tournaments you’re all alone and only have your parents cheering you on, but with a team we’re all close and it’s really fun.”
This year the junior is unbeaten at No. 1, but the Cougars have had to fill in with the freshmen around Kenny and Stuckey.
“The freshmen that have come in are talented. Very talented,” Cabana said. “And the thing I’ve noticed is that they’re super confident.
“But we are still coming together because we lost four starters and are bringing in four new freshmen. So it’s really been a learning process. I think with every practice we have and with every match the girls play they are developing more chemistry and that’s what’s going to make a difference.”
So far it’s worked well.
The Cougars next victory will run their consecutive win streak to 30 matches.
Stuckey and Kenny are doing their thing at the top of the lineup.
Freshmen Maggie Gehrig (unbeaten on Courts 1 and 2), Ava Tan (unbeaten on Courts 2,4 and 5), Amore Cardenas-Cook (unbeaten on Courts 4,5 and 6) and Tozzi (unbeaten on Courts 2 and 3) have blended in perfectly and this team appears to be the team to beat now, and will only get stronger as teams look to knock off the champs, a challenge Cabana embraces.
“It’s a process,” she said. “The upperclassmen are leading really well. I think the important lesson to learn is the tradition of Charlotte Catholic tennis. We’re coming off a state championship and that’s a lot of pressure, really. We set our goals one match at a time, and that’s our key.
“But I like how we’re progressing and we’ll see at the end.”