08/07/05 — Court Queens -- Goldsboro Country Club Senior 3.0 women's team crowned Southern Sectional champion

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Court Queens -- Goldsboro Country Club Senior 3.0 women's team crowned Southern Sectional champion

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 7, 2005 2:08 AM

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Exhausted mentally and physically from a three-set battle, Sharon Lafevers emerged from the stadium court and rested. As she wound down from the grueling encounter, she watched teammates Gloria Keesee and Bonnie Hunter battle through a third-set tiebreaker.

Lafevers and Goldsboro Senior 3.0 women's partner Betsy Harrold had just dropped a third-set tiebreaker to Alabama's "B" team. The defeat evened the USTA Southern Sectional championship dual match at 1-1, and put the pressure on Keesee-Hunter.

Keesee refused to look over at Lafevers.

Hunter, on the other hand, needed some confirmation. Once she saw Lafevers' facial reaction, Hunter knew a berth in the national finals depended upon their result.

"It was up to Gloria and me," said Hunter.

The duo kept their composure and dealt Alabama's "B" team, which hailed from Tuscaloosa, a two-point setback in the tiebreaker. The nail-biting ending capped a come-from-behind 3-6, 6-4, 12-10 victory and boosted Goldsboro -- a first-year team -- into the national finals Oct. 28-30 in southern California.

Goldsboro will participate in a five-team group which includes the Caribbean, Hawaii, southern California and Florida at the Riviera and Resort Racquet Club in Palm Springs. More than 20 teams in five groups combined will battle three days for national title.

Team captain Sharon Crawford created the Senior team due to a full roster of players on Goldsboro Country Club's 3.0 weekend squad. The addition enabled Keesee and several other players to participate, and they've been virtually unbeatable since.

Goldsboro emerged the Down East League champion with a 7-1 mark. It finished a perfect 4-0 in the North Carolina tournament, which included a triumph against defending state champion Winston-Salem in the title match.

The march continued.

Goldsboro posted 3-0 shutouts against Alabama "A" and Tennessee, and squeezed by Arkansas and Kentucky 2-1 in the Southern Sectionals. Keesee-Hunter toiled through a tough loss against Arkansas on an afternoon when the heat index reached 112 degrees.

"It was brutal," said Hunter.

Keesee-Hunter rebounded with wins against Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama "A" to help keep Goldsboro on track for the nationals. They also credited Lafevers-Harrold, who pulled out a match win after trailing 5-0 in a third-set tiebreaker.

Four consecutive victories set up a tantalizing final with Alabama "B."

Crawford and doubles mate Beth Kannan exited the court first with a 6-2, 6-4 decision. Meanwhile, Keesee-Hunter and Lafevers-Harrold each stumbled in their respective opening sets.

"We had a lot of unforced errors in that first set and had our serve broken at least twice," said Keesee. "We had to keep reminding one another between games of two things. One, to stay focused and to forget the point we lost.

"Two, to keep going for the high-percentage shots."

Keesee-Hunter kept pounding the ball hard up the middle and raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set. However, rain forced the players to leave the court and Keesee-Hunter lost their rhythm during the one-hour delay.

Alabama pulled to within 4-3 before Keesee-Hunter seized two of the next three games to force the third-set tiebreaker.

"They were a good, strong team," Keesee said. "They had strong serves, good net play and very good ball placement. They were enjoyable people as well.

"Even though it was intense, it was just as exciting."

Alabama cruised to an early lead in the tiebreaker, but Keesee-Hunter answered each point. The game featured several ties and lead changes from that point before Alabama had championship point at 9-8.

Keesee easily returned the serve which eventually led to a 9-9 tie.

Confident and cheered on by the Kentucky players, Keesee-Hunter remained focused and helped the club capture its most-significant victory in women's tennis.

"I have never been involved in anything like this before," Hunter said. The competition got a lot tougher in the sectionals. We'll see what happens (at nationals)."

Described as the "world's largest tennis tournament," the Southern Sectional championship surpassed last year's player count of 2,007 with 2,038 participants this year. Two pools of five teams compete in round-robin play with the winner of each pool advancing to the finals. In total, 477 dual matches comprised of 1,758 individual matches were contested at this year's championships.

South Carolina teams combined for six sectional titles in first- and second-half sectional play with Georgia and North Carolina each claiming five championships. The Goldsboro women's team is the lone North Carolina representative east of the Triangle.

"It's been a team effort to help make it to this point," Keesee said. "All the ladies on this team not only play good tennis, but they're all very competitive. More importantly, they're good, genuine people.

"We all love being with one another. It's been a great time."