11/07/05 — Wayne County's golden girls

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Wayne County's golden girls

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 7, 2005 2:05 PM

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Metallurgists have yet to discover the secret of turning silver into gold.

Maybe they should seek advice from the Goldsboro Country Club women's senior 3.0 tennis team. The nine-player squad celebrated USTA's 25-year silver anniversary of team league competition by claiming gold in the national championships recently contested in southern California.

Goldsboro fashioned an unblemished 6-0 record during the three-day competition held at the picturesque Riviera Resort & Racquet Club. Captained by Sharon Crawford, GCC emerged one of three southern sectional teams to prevail on the national scene. Cary represented the Triangle area well and won the 2.5 women's title, while Baton Rouge (La.) reigned supreme in 4.0 men's play.

"It's a feeling of true accomplishment," said Beth Kannan, Crawford's doubles partner. "At first you don't want to believe it, but we all worked hard for this. We played hard and had a great time doing it.

"It was a great run."

The team experienced a great run that might not have been possible without a "lucky" towel, strategy suggestions from back home and assistance from a teammate's husband for what could have been a season-ending injury.

John Collins gave Crawford a towel he used while making a championship run during a tournament years ago in Pinehurst. At first, Crawford's teammates thought it unusual to have such an item on their trip, but when the wins started piling up, they eagerly rubbed it for good luck before each match.

Crawford spent countless hours on the phone receiving lineup advice from Collins and Charles Royal, who served as captains on several different teams. The plan proved critical, especially in Goldsboro's second match against Southern California during flight play.

Collins and Royal encouraged Crawford, who normally played the number one line with Kannan in doubles, to move Sally Worrell-Holly Steed to that spot. Crawford-Kannan played No. 3, while Gloria Keesee-Bonnie Hunter competed at No. 2.

The change made a huge difference.

Crawford tore a calf muscle during the first set and could barely walk. Kannan asked Crawford if she wanted to retire. The overall match score stood 1-1.

"No, I can do this," Crawford said to Kannan. "I said 'Beth, guess what? You have to got play singles.'"

Crawford stood on the baseline in the corner and watched Kannan play a comparable version of Australian doubles -- one against two. Kannan shouldered the responsibility and the Goldsboro duo pulled out a straight-set win.

"Tennis is so much a mental game and I realized I had to focus on every point ... not on the win or loss," said Kannan. "That was my goal. I couldn't play single offense, but I decided to return every shot, put the ball where they weren't and not go for anything big.

"I did the best I could do to get the ball back."

Meanwhile, David Keesee missed the drama and traveled to two different towns over a period of five hours to find a leg brace for Crawford. Crawford missed the next match against Hawaii and Sharon LaFevers filled in for Crawford.

"When Sharon had her injury, we thought that might be a critical turning point," said LaFevers. "Beth took over and that was great."

Goldsboro defeated Hawaii and concluded flight play with a tough win against the Caribbean team, which hailed from Puerto Rico. One of three teams to finish unbeaten in flight competition, GCC moved into the four-team, single-elimination bracket.

Mid-Atlantic champion Midlothian (Va.) took Goldsboro to the limit. The teams split three-set matches with Keesee-Hunter winning 6-1, 4-6, 1-0 and LaFevers-Betsy Harrold falling 6-4, 6-7, 0-1. Kannan-Crawford, who finished the season unbeaten, turned back their opponents 6-1, 6-4.

"The score was not always indicative of how close our games were, even though Sharon and I came out on the better end of the deal," said Kannan. "(Every match) was a tough battle ... was not easy. We had many, many deuce points and none of the games we played were quick.

"The ball just fell our way."

Oswego (Ore.), which concluded flight play unbeaten, prevailed at No. 1 doubles over LaFevers-Harrold. Kannan-Crawford continued their steady play and seized a 6-1, 6-3 win. Keesee-Hunter collected a 6-3, 6-2 decision.

Midlothian shut out El Paso in the third-place match.

"It's an incredible feeling," said Crawford. "That shining moment when we realized we were national champions is a moment I will never forget as long as I live."

LaFevers eluded to the team's camaraderie, particularly the effort by Steed and Worrell. Two women who don't see considerable playing time, the duo responded and survived shaky nerves during a crucial point in Goldsboro's championship run.

Steed said the team remained focused on its goal.

"You have to go out there understanding why you're out there," said Steed. "Is it to have fun or are you out there to win? We decided a long time ago we were going for the win. You can't always play everyone.

"You have to go with the folks who are playing their best game."

Goldsboro ended the season 22-1, including a 22-match win streak.

"It would not have happened if had not been for all of us," said LaFevers. "We're one big happy family."

And national champions.

Notes: Goldsboro received donations from the N.C. Tennis Association, Goldsboro Tennis Foundation and the Wilson Tennis Foundation to help fund their trip. ... The 2006 Southern Sectional championships will return to Charleston (S.C.), while Mobile (Ala.) will play host to the 2007 and 2008 sectional finals. ... The USTA Southern Section led all USTA sections with the most top-four finishes (13) at the 2004 National Championships.