News-Argus Women's Tennis POY: Eastern Wayne team
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 23, 2007 2:02 AM
The Eastern Wayne women's tennis team was stronger, better and deeper this past fall and veteran coach Nancy Dawson made no bones about it.
With the program's most-promising season on the horizon, Dawson decided to challenge her team. During the spring, the men's team repeated as the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference champion and advanced to the eastern regional dual-team finals.
"Do one better," said Dawson to her girls when fall practice began.
They did -- in historic fashion.
The Warriors waltzed through the ECC with a perfect 10-0 record and stunned county archrival Charles B. Aycock on three occasions. The first meeting ended the Golden Falcons' record-setting, 306-match win streak against league opposition since 1979. The second encounter halted Aycock's 28-year run as conference champion.
The third victory, in the eastern dual-team semifinals, moved Dawson's club a step closer to meeting the preseason challenge. Only No. 1-ranked Rocky Mount stood in the Warriors' way and they dismantled them with ease in doubles competition, which secured the program's first-ever regional title.
"They're the best-kept secret in tennis," Gryphons coach Barry Nethercutt said of the Warriors after the stunning defeat.
Eastern Wayne stumbled in the state finals against perennial power Charlotte Catholic. They logged a 17-3 worksheet and finished ranked No. 2 in the season-ending N.C. High School Tennis Coaches Association Poll.
For their efforts, the entire Warriors women's varsity team is the 2007 News-Argus tennis players of the year.
"My expectations for the season were not like it ended up, I can tell you that," said Dawson. "The girls had set in their mind they were going to be number one in the conference. That was the determination from last year and that was what we based this year on.
"Could we do it or not?"
Dawson had her doubts until a late-season trip to Wilson Hunt in 2006. Her team hadn't played its best match that afternoon and seemed destined for a loss. But they pulled through and gained confidence.
And after a strong regular-season victory over Wilson Fike this past fall, Dawson and assistant coach Scott McConnaughey had a special group of players on their hands. The duo decided not to pressure the girls.
"We just gave them the tools they needed to successful and it worked with these girls," said Dawson. "These girls worked together as a unit and we've tried to have that for years with all the teams that we've coached.
"We just went out and took care of business."
Eastern Wayne stayed focused on Dawson's preseason task and faced its biggest challenge in the first meeting with Aycock. The Warriors dominated singles play and from that day, realized they had a chance to embark on a historic journey.
As the regular season progressed, teams found it difficult to match Eastern Wayne's depth. Each player had their own game, and knew their strengths and weaknesses.
"If something changed in the game plan, we could tell them to do something different instead," said Dawson. "They stayed in that mindset."
The Warriors cruised past their first two playoff opponents and needed nearly five hours to turn back Aycock in the eastern semifinals. The eastern title win against Rocky Mount took nearly the same length of time.
They had, indeed, done one better than the boys.
"I think one of the biggest things (to our success) was we spent a lot more time encouraging them because it seemed like the right thing to do," said Dawson, who will return four starters in 2008. "They knew when to have fun and knew when to get down to business. I think next year, if we get the opportunity again, we'll make a much-better showing at states.
"I think we will and I hope we get the chance."
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