By DONNELL COLEY
ANGIER — After bringing a school-record six entrants to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A Mideast Women’s Tennis Championship last June, Harnett Central coach Jay James has seen the program expand this fall.
Despite losing the majority of last season’s regional qualifiers, Central currently has a 17-member roster – the largest James has led since taking over the program.
“Last year I had a very strong top and the bottom was a bit weaker. But with these girls, the number 12 (seed) can beat number 1 on any given day. That’s a huge luxury,” he said after Tuesday’s 8-1 win over Overhills to open the competition.
Sophie McLean is the only returnee to compete in regional competitions last season, stepping into the number 1 position. The sophomore has thrived in the role so far, going undefeated in singles and helping Central set an overall record of 4-0.
“I can tell the girls everything I want as a coach: ‘Hey, I played 25 years ago.’ But when they hear from her (McLean) — how she’s feeling during the game, and the nervousness, how she’s warming up and what she’s looking for — she can give that kind of thing because she’s been there,” James said.
“Most girls are playing in the top six for the first time until this year. So that’s the main thing. really helped all the girls trying to understand what to do to be mentally prepared for these competitions. ”
Seniors Cara Fischer and Valentina Cervantes, along with junior Kylie Guerrero, took turns in both singles and doubles. James says they’ve also helped with leadership roles.
Fischer and Cervantes took 8-0 singles victories at Overhills, then the pair secured a doubles win together on Thursday in Central’s 7-0 win against Pine Forest.
Guerrero took an 8-1 win in singles on Thursday to help the Lady Trojans stay perfect in the All American Conference game.
As Central moves to the heart of its league schedule in the coming weeks, two matchups await with the highly regarded Terry Sanford.
“From now on, we’re going to be playing conference games, so I said to the girls, ‘You just have to persevere and be ready, especially if you’re in the same conference as the No. 1 team in the state,’ James said.
First up is a road test on Monday against cross-county rival Triton.
Donnell Coley can be reached at [email protected] or (910) 230-2040.
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