11/05/04 — OPINION -- Tennis capital of South

View Archive

OPINION -- Tennis capital of South

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 5, 2004 1:57 PM

The large, brightly-colored billboard greets travelers as they turn off Highway 58 onto Highway 13 South.

"Welcome to Greene County. Tennis Capital of the South."

Who can argue with that statement?

The small town of Snow Hill boasts one of North Carolina's top tennis powers on the girl's and boy's prep scene -- Greene Central. The two programs have played for the last eight dual-team state championships on the Class 2-A level. Each time, they've reluctantly settled for the silver -- the team trophy and individual medals.

The Lady Rams get another crack at a state title Saturday morning. Greene Central (26-2) opposes either defending state champion Charlotte Catholic or Wilkes Central on the Burlington Tennis Center courts.

"Regardless of who we play in the final, we'll go up against a very good team," veteran Greene Central coach Donald Clark said. "They are both extremely well-coached teams with a lot of talent from top to bottom. We'll have to play very well to have a chance to beat either one of them."

Catholic has seized eight state titles since dual-team competition began in 1990.

While the Cougars' domination might intimidate any opponent, the Rams go in with some confidence. They took two singles matches, both three-set decisions, against Catholic in last year's final. Graduation depleted the Cougars' top half of the lineup, including two-time state champion Meg Dlugos.

Three Greene Central seniors -- Sarah Moore, Summer Chase and Holly Mace -- play their final matches this weekend. The trio has talent and experience, but most importantly, they've played consistent on big points throughout the season.

No points will carry more weight than those played Saturday.

"It's finally here," a grinning Clark said. "That's been our goal from day one and when you've been as many times as we have, I think that everything up to that point -- since they've been there so many times -- just doesn't have any meaning any more."

Nothing would mean more to this group than finally shaking the title of "runner-up."

More than a decade ago, Clark might never imagined putting together one of the state's top tennis programs. The school's facilities were in shambles and playing tennis had more of a recreational feel instead of a competitive atmosphere.

The formation of the Greene County Tennis Association changed that outlook. As participation grew and word spread of Clark's venture, the Rams slowly turned into a powerhouse -- despite being the only high school in the county.

Greene Central began winning conference championships and advancing individuals to regional and state tournament play. Once the N.C. High School Athletic Association introduced the dual-team concept, the Rams became a fixture among the state's elite.

The Rams are just one of two teams east of Interstate 95 with more than 30 victories in dual-team playoff competition. The other is long-time rival Charles B. Aycock, which has 38. Overall a mere 13 schools, either in the Triangle area or western North Carolina, have acquired 30 or more wins.

"A lot of people think this is somehow easy -- that it just happens by accident, but these girls have worked their tails off to become a tennis powerhouse," Clark said. "We don't have a lot of the advantages that the larger cities have.

"I just can't say enough about my girls. I'm proud of their hard work and everything they have accomplished."

Who wouldn't be proud?