Perhaps the only reason why Rose Kenny won’t be going for her fourth consecutive state tennis championship next year is that she didn’t play in the singles tournament as a freshman.
Kenny, a junior at Charlotte Catholic, won her second consecutive singles title Saturday at the Burlington Tennis Center, continuing her playoff domination with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Cougars teammate Maggie Gehrig.
Sisters Ella and Sophie Imhof of Marvin Ridge (Marvin, N.C.) kept Charlotte Catholic from sweeping the 3A titles by winning in doubles, 6-2, 6-3 over Logan Stuckey and Kaitlyn Tozzi.
Ella, a senior and 15 months older than junior Sophie, said losses in their conference tournament and regional tournament to Catholic provided plenty of motivation.
“Staying calm, staying positive and not letting the past two losses that we took to them get in our heads,” Ella said. “We tried to stay in the moment, stay focused.”
The Imhofs only played doubles together a “handful” of times before this season, when they decided to pair for the Mavericks.
Now they’re state champions.
“It’s very cool,” Ella said. “It’s my last year and my first year individually (in the state tournament), so I’m very happy to have been able to do so well — especially with my sister.”
“It’s very exciting,” Sophie said. “We were going to play last year, but she was injured, so this being her senior year, we’re very happy to win.”
State champ: Kenny lost one game in four matches in Midwest Regional play and then lost only 10 games in four matches over two days at the Piedmont Tennis Center in Greensboro and the Burlington Tennis Center.
“When you’re confident and you’re cruising through, it’s the best feeling,” Kenny said. “It’s way better than feeling down or if you’re not playing as well.”
Being that far ahead of the field, and that successful, might be a formula for overconfidence, but not for Kenny.
“Sometimes, but it never gets to me,” Kenny said. “I always just have the right amount, I guess.”
Kenny’s strengths are her court coverage and the ability to make shots from every part of the court. Opponents often just hope to stay in rallies with Kenny, and even Gehrig admitted playing her was “tiring.”
“It means so much (to win the title),” Kenny said. “I was really excited. Maggie is a fantastic player, and I was so excited to have her on our team. It’s exciting, it’s fun.”
Kenny did reach the state final in doubles as a freshman when Charlotte Catholic played at the 4A level. She’d clearly be the favorite for a third consecutive title — if she plays singles.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” Kenny said. “I don’t know if I’ll play singles or doubles next year, but we’ll see.”
Runner-up: It wouldn’t be a stretch to see Kenny and Gehrig in the final next year, as Gehrig is a freshman and exhibited a Kenny-like domination in the three matches before the final.
“Hopefully that’s how it works out,” Gehrig said.
Gehrig beat Kylee Edwards of Topsail (Hampstead, N.C.) 6-4, 6-0 in the first round before taking out a talented Savannah Bright of East Chapel Hill in round two 6-4, 6-1.
Saturday, Gehrig beat Hannah Jiang of Cox Mill (Concord, N.C.) 6-1, 6-2 in the state semifinal before running into the buzzsaw that is Kenny. Gehrig didn’t have lofty expectations coming into the state tournament, but the experience gathered was immense.
“I knew it was going to be really hard, especially the second round because (Bright) was really good,” Gehrig said. “I was just trying to take it match-by-match and see if I could go to the finals. It was a really good experience, and Rose is so good, so it’s still really good.”
Semifinalists: The loss to Gehrig gave Jiang, a sophomore, plenty to work on for 2019.
“Players like her, they tend to play the bigger points better than I do,” Jiang said. “I can get a lot of games points or I can get to deuce a lot, but I don’t play those (bigger) points as well because I get really tight. … For next year, I think game-wise, I need to work a lot on my consistency. My groundstrokes, I just make too many unforced errors. And my serve, I double-fault a lot, especially into the net. Things like that. Next year, maybe I can keep my head together a little bit better. … I didn’t think I played bad today. I tried to stay aggressive no matter what. I know Maggie’s a really good player, so I knew I couldn’t let up. That’s all I really tried to do. It was a good experience for me. I’m glad I made it this far.”
The other semifinalist, Mary Davis Thompson of New Hanover High (Wilmington, N.C.), was the lone player in the Eastern part of North Carolina to reach the final four in singles or doubles.
“That was really great,” Thompson said. “The other side is really good, really good.”
Thompson is a sophomore, so we’ll likely see more of her in the future.
“It was fun playing players who are really experienced and really good,” Thompson said. “I really enjoyed it, and it was good practice, good experience. I’m just going to work on my serve – keeping it in, keeping it deep.”
Championship, Saturday match: Rose Kenny (Charlotte Catholic) def. Maggie Gehrig (Charlotte Catholic) 6-2, 6-3.
Semifinals, Saturday matches: Rose Kenny (Charlotte Catholic) def. Mary Davis Thompson (New Hanover) 6-1, 6-1; Maggie Gehrig (Charlotte Catholic) def. Hannah Jiang (Cox Mill) 6-1, 6-2.
Second round, Friday matches: Mary Davis Thompson (New Hanover) def. Isabelle Theodossiou (Asheville) 6-1, 6-3; Rose Kenny (Charlotte Catholic) def. Carolina Coch (Chapel Hill) 6-2, 6-1; Maggie Gehrig (Charlotte Catholic) def. Savannah Bright (East Chapel Hill) 6-4, 6-1; Hannah Jiang (Cox Mill) def. Maranda Adair (Crest) 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.
First round, Friday matches: Mary Davis Thompson (New Hanover) def. Payton Holt (West Rowan) 6-2, 6-1; Isabelle Theodossiou (Asheville) def. River Britt (Union Pines) 6-2, 6-1; Rose Kenny (Charlotte Catholic) def. Crystal Andersen (Clayton) 6-1, 6-1; Carolina Coch (Chapel Hill) def. Emma Jones (A.C. Reynolds) 6-0, 6-0; Savannah Bright (East Chapel Hill) def. Ashton Dickerson (Asheville) 6-1, 6-2; Maggie Gehrig (Charlotte Catholic) def. Kylee Edwards (Topsail) 6-4, 6-0; Maranda Adair (Crest) def. Chloe Arnett (Cape Fear) 6-2, 6-0; Hannah Jiang (Cox Mill) def. Madison Cullipher (D.H. Conley) 6-3, 6-3.
Runner-up: Stuckey and Tozzi survived a three-set match in the semifinals, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, against Concord’s Molly Handler and Maya Haynes to set up the battle with the Imhof sisters.
“We stayed positive, stayed within ourselves and made better shots, basically,” Stuckey said.
The trip to the final was a first for both Stuckey, a senior, and Tozzi, a freshman.
“Just the fact that it’s senior year and I had never made it to states before this year, so just to be here was really great and really an honor,” Stuckey said. “I wanted to get the title, but that’s OK. We still made runner-up.”
“We gave it our all,” Tozzi said. “We couldn’t have done any better. It was really awesome playing with Logan since she was a senior. She’s a great player. It was an honor to come here and play here.”
Stuckey is working through her college search and is also deciding whether she wants to extend her playing career at the next level.
“Some big decisions to make,” Stuckey said.
Semifinalists: The emotions spilled over after both semifinal matches, but for different reasons. Long after their 6-3, 6-3 loss to the Imhof sisters, Ainsley Zubrinsky and Avery Sager held back tears when talking about the battle with their Marvin Ridge teammates.
Zubrinsky is a senior and a close friend with Ella Imhof.
“I’m just sad because it’s senior year and not being able to play with (Sager) anymore,” Zubrinsky said. “The girl we just played (Ella Imhof), she’s one of my best friends and she’s leaving me to go to Pennsylvania to play in college, and I won’t see her that much, so it’s sad.”
Playing teammates in the state tournament was “awful,” Zubrinsky said, but they held their own. Now, Sager, a freshman, will need a new doubles partner if she wants to return to the state tournament in 2019.
“It was really fun playing with her,” Sager said. “I’m really sad I only got to play with her for only a year. I’m excited to play again.”
Haynes and Handler both sat on the court, heads down, after falling to Stuckey and Tozzi. The loss marked the third time the Concord team had lost to Stuckey and Tozzi over the last month, once in the conference tournament and again in the regionals.
“It’s hard because it’s our third year coming to states, and we’ve lost to the same team twice,” Haynes said. “Regionals, we’ve lost to them. We come so close every single time, so close.”
“We’ve worked really hard, and we’re ready to see it pay off,” Handler said.
After winning the first set, their confidence grew. But Stuckey and Tozzi came back strong.
“I really thought we had it because we had such good energy and good strokes,” Haynes said. “We were really consistent. Once we got the first game and the first set, we even got more confident. I really don’t know what happened. We didn’t fall apart.”
Handler said the duo “lacked energy” in the second set. Trailing 4-1 in the third, they broke serve and got back in the match.
“I didn’t want to finish the way we were playing,” Handler said. “We were going too fast, snow-balling way too quickly. I’d have been even more upset than I am now if we finished 6-1.”
Both are juniors, so they’ll have another chance to exorcize some demons.
“I need to get rid of these emotions before I even think about tennis,” Handler said.
Championship, Saturday match: Sophie Imhof & Ella Imhof (Marvin Ridge) def. Logan Stuckey & Kaitlyn Tozzi (Charlotte Catholic) 6-2, 6-3.
Semifinals, Saturday matches: Logan Stuckey & Kaitlyn Tozzi (Charlotte Catholic) def. Molly Handler & Maya Haynes (Concord) 1-6, 6-1, 6-4; Sophie Imhof & Ella Imhof (Marvin Ridge) def. Avery Sager & Ainsley Zubrinsky (Marvin Ridge) def. 6-3, 6-3.
Second round, Saturday matches: Molly Handler & Maya Haynes (Concord) def. Caroline Byrd & Ava Manley (T.C. Roberson) 6-1, 6-3; Logan Stuckey & Kaitlyn Tozzi (Charlotte Catholic) def. Margaret Nelson & Christina Gao (East Chapel Hill) 6-0, 6-0; Sophie Imhof & Ella Imhof (Marvin Ridge) def. Maddie Moore & Ingrid Mast (East Chapel Hill) 6-1, 6-0; Avery Sager & Ainsley Zubrinsky (Marvin Ridge) def. Natalie Lutz & Madalynn Frye (Kings Mountain) 6-4, 6-4.
First round, Saturday matches: Molly Handler & Maya Haynes (Concord) def. Maryah Stokes & Ginger Evans (J.H. Rose) 7-5, 6-2; Caroline Byrd & Ava Manley (T.C. Roberson) def. Leah McDonough & Lauren McDonough (Terry Sanford) 6-1, 6-0; Logan Stuckey & Kaitlyn Tozzi (Charlotte Catholic) def. Sara Frances Butler & Anne McBryde Barker (New Hanover) 6-1, 6-0; Margaret Nelson & Christina Gao (East Chapel Hill) def. Erin Sullivan & Elsa Schuls (Forestview) 3-6, 6-4, 6-2; Maddie Moore & Ingrid Mast (East Chapel Hill) def. Hannah Farmer & Meredith Anderson (Enka) 7-6 (4), 6-1; Sophie Imhof & Ella Imhof (Marvin Ridge) def. Caroline Broderick & Katie Moss (Rocky Mount) 6-1, 6-0; Natalie Lutz & Madalynn Frye (Kings Mountain) def. Olivia Ward & Alana Lutz (Cedar Ridge) 6-0, 6-0; Avery Sager & Ainsley Zubrinsky (Marvin Ridge) def. Kathryn Thompson & Frances Coleman (New Hanover) 6-0, 6-2.