08/26/05 — Rams netters edge C.B. Aycock

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Rams netters edge C.B. Aycock

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 26, 2005 1:55 PM

PIKEVILLE -- A pair of first-year starters surprised veteran Greene Central women's tennis coach Donald Clark on Thursday afternoon.

Senior Elizabeth Cooper and junior Brittany Horton combined for three victories as the Rams turned back archrival Charles B. Aycock 5-4 in yet another four-hour marathon.

Cooper and Horton each claimed a straight-set singles victory, but it was the doubles effort that earned Clark's praise. Cooper-Horton raced to a 7-0 lead and lost four consecutive games before regaining their composure in an 8-4 win.

"That (win) was the biggest in a pressure situation," said Clark.

Clark and C.B. Aycock coach Luke Vail used the early-season, non-conference affair to evaluate his respective team. While they each recognized weaknesses, they each solved problems.

Vail inserted a different player at No. 6 singles for the third consecutive match. By the end of the day, he speculated that first-year starter Emilee Quinn -- who won Wednesday against Clayton -- just might be his solution.

Top-seeded Raychel Batts needed a doubles partner who could flourish in the ad court since Batts' strong suit is the deuce side.

Vail moved senior Carlyn Claiborne into that slot and the tandem immediately clicked.

Batts-Claiborne seized the first five games against the Rams' Meredith Rouse-Ashley Harrell in an 8-2 triumph.

"We got an outstanding effort there," said Vail.

Both coaches commented on their respective team's endeavors in singles. Clark said his team showed uncharacteristic unity from top to bottom, and hustled on every point. Vail agreed the Golden Falcons played solid, but quickly added that facing the Rams early is "the best way to get better."

"There are numerous things we need to work on to become a better team down the road, but that's the reason you play these matches," said Vail. "Everything worked out well for us. I was proud of the players and proud of their efforts."

Batts and Claiborne each climbed to 3-0 in singles play. Claiborne dealt Christi Murphy a 6-3, 6-2 defeat -- her first in three outings. Batts broke Rouse's serve three times late in the second set in a 6-1, 7-5 decision.

The team's top two singles players, Batts and Rouse aggressively pounded ground stroke after ground stroke at each other in a 1-hour, 48-minute battle. Some volleys lasted more than 20 balls and Rouse, who matched Batts' pace and strength, broke strings on two racquets in the opening set.

She borrowed Dana Spivey's racquet to finish the match.

"I enjoyed watching that match," said Vail moments after it concluded. "That was some good tennis by two quality players."

Due to their assertive play, Batts and Rouse combined for more unforced errors (18) than winners (4) in the final five games. They also struggled with their serve and committed 11 total double faults during that same stretch.

Vail said experience emerged the deciding factor in the final four singles matches. Along with fifth-seeded Horton and sixth-seeded Cooper, the Rams received wins from seniors Harrell (No. 3) and fourth-seeded Michelle Jernigan.

"Brittany played well at five, but Elizabeth and Michelle played the best singles matches I've ever seen them play," said Clark. "They were both dominating and controlled the matches from the beginning.

"Elizabeth has been working hard on improving her forehand at practice, and she hit some great shots today off both sides. Michelle did a great job mixing up her shots, and she played like a seasoned veteran today."

Clark said the success helped his team develop some confidence in singles. Greene Central returns just three starters off last year's team that won its seventh consecutive 2-A eastern regional dual-team title. Jernigan is a first-year starter along with Horton and Cooper.

Aycock also returns just three starters off last year's squad that fell to East Chapel Hill in the 3-A dual-team eastern regional final. Fourth-seeded Laine Purcell, fifth-seeded Lizzie Sodoma and sixth-seeded Kristen Bennett are all first-year starters.

Purcell and Sodoma have played in each match this week.

"No one gave up," said Vail. "I see some good things from my young kids, but we still haven't developed all the skills we need to be a total court player.

"I thought Greene Central did a really good job of mixing up their game on the court -- drop shots, slice shots, lobs, taking pace off. They tactically played a very good match."

C.B. Aycock (2-1) entertains Tarboro, the 2-A east dual-team runner-up last season, at 4 p.m. Monday. Greene Central (2-1) is the guest of Southern Nash the same afternoon.