CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte Catholic girls tennis team went on a run for the ages after an 0-3 start to last year, winning out the rest of the season and taking the 3A dual team championship.
This year, the Cougars were going to be really good with returnees Rose Kenny, Logan Stuckey and Domenica Moreno back, but how newcomers Amore Cardenas-Cook, Ava Tan, Kaitlyn Tozzi and Maggie Gehrig – all freshmen – would react to the pressures of big matches as the season wore on was the biggest question.
The freshmen most certainly did their part.
Gehrig was 22-1 in singles play playing lines 1-3. Tan was 22-2 mostly playing lines 3-4. Tozzi was 9-1, playing mostly at Court 3, and Cardenas-Cook 18-0 playing mostly at 5-6.
But longtime Charlotte Catholic coach Jo Cabana didn’t know how the team, and especially the freshmen, would react on tennis’ biggest stage Nov. 3 in Cary against Chapel Hill. That’s despite her team being so dominant they played six matches to 5-4 scores last year, but this season had let only 4A runner-up Myers Park and conference rival Marvin Ridge get as close as 7-2.
“I was concerned nerves might get to some of the underclassmen, but they took it and ran with it,” said Cabana, who has gone 736-80 and won nearly 91 percent of her matches over 27 seasons as a coach. “They were happy, they were upbeat and they were excited to be there. I think part of that was due to a raucous bus ride up there, but they were loose, relaxed and ready to play.”
Stuckey, the lone senior in the singles rotation and the recipient of the NCHSAA Sportsmanship Award, won 6-1, 6-1 on Court 3. Gehrig was victorious 6-1, 6-1 on Court 2, Tan won by the same score on court 5 and Cardenas-Cook won 6-0, 6-2 on court 5.
The clincher, fittingly, came down to Kenny, who won 6-3, 6-2 on Court 1, setting off a wild celebration.
“It was pretty cool that rose clinched the match for us,” Cabana said. “That worked out well and was neat to see.”
Kenny, who went 16-1 in singles, had just last week wrapped up her second consecutive individual 3A title, but was now in the middle of the Cougars second straight state title celebration, a feat matched only by the 2003-04 teams at Catholic under Cabana.
“People don’t really understand how hard it is to win an individual singles state championship on any level and let alone twice,” Cabana said. “Then she has to come back and play for the team. That’s super hard because there’s a lot of pressure. She handled it so well. I think a lot of girls look up to her and want to emulate that kind of enthusiasm and hard work.”
The win is the Cougars 24th straight this season and 46th consecutive dating back to Aug. 19 of last season when they lost to Page, 5-4.
“This has been hard,” Cabana said. “Two years ago we had to beat Weddington three times, and they were probably the No.2 team and second-best team in the state. That’s not easy to do. This year we had Marvin three times and every match was a battle. That was very hard to do. Everybody wanted to beat us this year, but as much as they wanted to beat us, we wanted to win. I think that showed.
“And this is also cool because it’s my first undefeated season here.”
The title was also Cabana’s 25th in her career, after winning crowns at St. Thomas Aquinas (two girls titles), Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cardinal Gibbons (eight boys, seven girls) and Charlotte Catholic (eight girls).
But it may not be her last. Stuckey will graduate and leave a hole in the middle of the lineup, but Kenny returns with all of the freshmen a year older and more experienced.
“We’re graduating one senior, so that helps us set another goal,” Cabana said. “This sets up our first back-to-back-to-back title, so our goals just go higher.”