With the top three players from last year graduated, 2017 qualified as the nearest thing Terry Sanford girls’ tennis has had to a rebuilding year.
That’s not how things wound up.
Bulldogs coach Mandy McMillan’s charges rolled to the regular season title in the new Patriot Athletic Conference and now prepare for what they hope will be another successful run in the state 3-A playoffs.
The biggest surprise for McMillan is how the young players in the lineup have stepped up, as Melissa Lu at No. 1 singles is the only senior in her top six.
“The young ones on the team have played their hearts out,’’ McMillan said. “They have blown it out of the water. They are going to be really fierce the next couple of years, and people need to look out for them.’’
One thing the squad misses being in the new conference is the annual battles with Union Pines in the old Cape Fear Valley 3-A.
More than one player on this year’s team feels the Union Pines duels helped prepare Terry Sanford for tough competition in the postseason.
“I liked playing them to get the competition,’’ said Leah McDonough, who plays No. 3 singles.
No. 2 singles player Ritika Shamdasani agreed. “It was great practice to play with those girls,’’ she said. “That was probably one of our biggest matches of the season. Always very competitive.’’
But Shamdasani feels this Bulldog team has come together with a lot of support. “It was a combination of our girls’ spirit, and our coach has always been amazing,’’ she said. “The school itself is really supportive. All that combined to create a really good tennis year.’’
But it’s not over, and as No. 1 singles player Lu said, there’s a lot of tennis season left after the regular season is over.
“With tennis, you like to think of the long run,’’ Lu said. “We’ve kept the same attitude.’’
Lu is still weighing the decision if she’ll play singles or doubles in the postseason. “Nothing is set in stone,’’ she said. “We’re still figuring that out as a team.’’
McMillan said one of her main concerns for the postseason is making sure her team has the stamina to deal with tough matches. “One of the things I saw last year when we went to tiebreakers was they were getting tired easy,’’ she said. “I tried to incorporate conditioning to prepare them for these long matches.
“As long as we can keep the mental game strong and keep them straight mentally, we’re going to do really well.’’
N.C. High School Athletic Association regional competition in girls’ tennis begins Oct. 20-21.