Jenna Thompson has been such a dominant player during her tennis tenure at South Mecklenburg High (Charlotte, N.C.) that she doesn’t find herself behind very often.
The junior won the state 4A singles title as a freshman and a sophomore, and she cruised into the final Sunday against Sibel Tanik of Sanderson High (Raleigh, N.C.).
Tanik, though, was playing well in her final singles tournament, grabbing a 7-5 first-set victory. And almost before you could say “upset special,” Tanik was ahead 4-1 in the second set.
That’s when Thompson’s emotions spilled over, as she yelled, “Nothing is going my way!” for all at Millbrook Exchange Park’s Tennis Center to hear.
Somehow, that exclamation calmed Thompson, and she reeled off five consecutive games to win the second set 6-4. That momentum carried over to the final set, where Thompson won 6-2 to earn her third consecutive state championship.
She’s the 11th player in NCHSAA history to win three singles titles. The 10th came a day before, as Zoe Huffman of Maiden High (Maiden, N.C.) won her third 2A title.
“She was playing really well in the first set,” Thompson said. “She went up 4-1 and she was just playing amazing. I just stuck with it and just kept playing my game. I got every ball back and played every point the same. … I just played. I stopped worrying about it and just played.”
Despite already having two trophies at home in Charlotte, Thompson hardly had a place for a third already picked out.
“Just really excited,” Thompson said. “I didn’t think I’d win three titles, but I’m really happy and really happy to support my school. … I was really nervous. I didn’t think I was going to win, but I just stuck with it and played my game. I’m really happy with the result.”
What would four in a row mean to Thompson?
“That’d be really, really good to end off with and go to college with,” Thompson said. “That’d be super good, but I’m not thinking about that right now.”
In doubles, Green Hope (Cary N.C.) coach Pam Gilbert looks like a genius for putting the team of Sophia Gray and Anna Rico together for the state tournament. Rico usually plays No. 1 doubles with Katie Andreini, but the senior Andreini was playing another tournament this weekend to try and enhance her recruiting position.
So Gilbert paired Rico, a junior, with another senior, Gray.
“I remember thinking that we had a pretty good chance of getting this far,” Gray said when told of the news. “Now that we have gotten this far, all that hard work paid off, and it’s really great right now. It’s pretty cool to end high school tennis like this.”
Gray and Rico beat Karen Galush and Karly Fitzgerald of Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh, N.C.) 7-5, 7-5 in a competitive match that had many twists and turns.
“We just never gave up,” Gray said. “There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the match, but we held our nerves together.”
Green Hope has had a girls player win the 4A singles title (Melissa Kandinata in 2010), but this was the program’s first doubles title.
“I feel like we’ve worked really hard for this and it feels great to have all our hard work pay off,” Rico said.
Runner-up – Sibel Tanik, Sanderson (Raleigh, N.C.): Up a set, Tanik knew she couldn’t celebrate.
“I was trying not to think like that because I knew it was never over with such a good player (like Thompson),” Tanik said. “I was still really super nervous the whole match. I was trying to calm myself down and not get ahead of myself, especially with how close it was.”
Thompson won 11 of the final 13 games to close out the match.
“She stayed very composed the whole time,” Tanik said. “She was not going to give me anything, she was not going to give me that match, for sure, and I had to earn it. I think I did a little bit too much, went for a little bit too much, and it cost me in the end. But she stayed very composed and steady, which is tough.”
A few tears flowed from Tanik’s eyes after the match, as it closed out her career at Sanderson.
“It’s bittersweet, for sure,” Tanik said. “I really wanted the win because it’s my senior year and stuff, but I knew with Jenna, she’s a great player, and it was going to be a tough match. But I’m happy with how well I did and how far I came. I just wish I had gotten the win for my last year.”
Tanik will bring her game to East Carolina next season, and one weapon college opponents should be on the lookout for is her backhand.
Tanik unleashed her two-handed backhand several times against Thompson, scoring several points with crosscourt lasers.
“It’s definitely one of my favorite shots, especially that crosscourt angle,” Tanik said. “I use it to my advantage a lot. I’ve always been really comfortable with it, and people don’t usually expect it, so it’s a surprise most of the time. But, yeah, I do like my backhand a lot.”
Semifinalist – Laura Becker, Davie County (Mocksville, N.C.): Becker, who lost 6-0, 6-2 to Tanik in one of the two semifinals, will continue her tennis career at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.
“It was a good tournament, and I had a lot of fun playing. I’ve played four years, and it’s over for now. I didn’t play my best, and she played really well,” she said.
Semifinalist – Bella Steffen, Panther Creek (Cary, N.C.): Steffen lost 6-1, 6-1 to Thompson in the other semifinal.
“I played OK. I tried to be consistent and stay with her, but she ended up being more consistent, and I started missing more. But overall, it was OK. It was my first year here, but it was a really good experience. I loved playing this tournament.”
Championship, Sunday match: Jenna Thompson (South Mecklenburg) def. Sibel Tanik (Sanderson) 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.
Semifinals, Sunday matches: Sibel Tanik (Sanderson) def. Laura Becker (Davie County) 6-0, 6-2; Jenna Thompson (South Mecklenburg) def. Bella Steffen (Panther Creek) 6-1, 6-1.
Second round, Saturday matches: Sibel Tanik (Sanderson) def. Madeline Fowler (Independence) 6-1, 6-0; Laura Becker (Davie County) def. Elyse Duley (Myers Park) 6-3, 6-2; Bella Steffen (Panther Creek) def. Jade Houston (Rolesville) 6-0, 6-0; Jenna Thompson (South Mecklenburg) def. Elizabeth Weidl (Northwest Guilford) 6-3, 6-1.
First round, Saturday matches: Sibel Tanik (Sanderson) def. Caroline Richter (Reagan) 6-0, 6-0; Madeline Fowler (Independence) def. Rindha Sudhini (Green Hope) 6-1, 6-1; Laura Becker (Davie County) def. Becket Waters (Broughton) 6-3, 6-0; Elyse Duley (Myers Park) def. Gabriella Cicin (Apex) 2-6, 6-2, 6-3; Bella Steffen (Panther Creek) def. Sylvia Mihailescu (Providence) 6-0, 6-0; Jade Houston (Rolesville) def. Livia Popa (Hough) 6-2, 6-2; Jenna Thompson (South Mecklenburg) def. Alka Tomar (Green Hope) 6-1, 6-0; Elizabeth Weidl (Northwest Guilford) def. Juliana Craft (Sanderson) default.
Runner-up – Galush and Fitzgerald, Cardinal Gibbons: “We played well overall as a team,” Galush said. “We needed to close on a lot more net points. That’s where we struggled a little bit, especially up the line for me.”
“This was our last time playing together, so it’s sad,” Fitzgerald said.
Semifinalists – Emily Holderness and Halle Futch, Myers Park (Charlotte, N.C.): Holderness and Futch lost 6-2, 6-3 to Gray and Rico.
“It was a good match, and we played well,” Holderness said. “We made a lot of little mistakes on big points, but overall we played well, volleyed well. Good match.”
Holderness, a senior, and Futch, a junior, lost in the second round in 2017.
“This year to make it to the semis,” Holderness said. “We were pretty excited to do another step better.”
The Myers Park duo was among the most vocal pairs on Sunday, constantly exhorting each other and smiling the entire match. They’ve been playing together for several years and clearly enjoy being on the court with each other.
“We really like to pump each other up,” Futch said. “We always find that if one of us is excited and happy about a certain shot, then we can pump up the other one to do the same. We make sure we don’t get down on ourselves, and that kinda psychs out our opponents because they’re like, ‘Oh, they just lost a point but they’re still smiling? What?'”
Semifinalist – Melody Zhang and Diya Ramchandani, Panther Creek (Cary, N.C.): Zhang and Ramchandani lost 6-4, 6-4 to Galush and Fitzgerald.
“We were a little flat, but it was fine,” Zhang said.
“I think we could’ve played better than we did, but we tried our best,” Ramchandani said. “This is my first time, and I was really lucky that I got to get this far being so young.”
Ramchandani may play singles in 2019, but Zhang’s tennis career is over.
“I’m done,” Zhang said. “I have a dual-team match (Monday), and after that, I think I’m quitting.”
Championship, Sunday match: Sophia Gray & Anna Rico (Green Hope) def. Karen Galush & Karly Fitzgerald (Cardinal Gibbons) 7-5, 7-5.
Semifinals, Sunday matches: Karen Galush & Karly Fitzgerald (Cardinal Gibbons) def. Melody Zhang & Diya Ramchandani (Panther Creek) 6-4, 6-4; Sophia Gray & Anna Rico (Green Hope) def. Halle Futch & Emily Holderness (Myers Park) 6-2, 6-3.
Second round, Saturday matches: Karen Galush & Karly Fitzgerald (Cardinal Gibbons) def. Cynthia Xiao & Reilly Major (Green Hope) 3-6, 6-2, 6-2; Melody Zhang & Diya Ramchandani (Panther Creek) def. Julia Abrams & Natalie White (Mooresville) 3-6, 6-4, 6-1; Sophia Gray & Anna Rico (Green Hope) def. Morgan Little & Leslie Uy (Mooresville) 6-1, 6-0; Halle Futch & Emily Holderness (Myers Park) def. Helen Alvis & Camden Clark (Leesville Road) 7-6 (5), 6-3.
First round, Saturday matches: Karen Galush & Karly Fitzgerald (Cardinal Gibbons) def. Jessica Brannon & Emily Ramanata (Hough) 6-0, 6-3; Cynthia Xiao & Reilly Major (Green Hope) def. Maya Evans & Hannah Gross (Ardrey Kell) 6-0, 4-3 (retired); Julia Abrams & Natalie White (Mooresville) def. Catherine Battle & Lila Vallot (Enloe) 6-3, 6-1; Melody Zhang & Diya Ramchandani (Panther Creek) def. Alba Eceiza & Camden Wallace (Ardrey Kell) 6-3, 6-2; Sophia Gray & Anna Rico (Green Hope) def. Cate Davis & Hayden Plyler (Myers Park) 6-2, 6-4; Morgan Little & Leslie Uy (Mooresville) def. Becca Bollinger & Meg Spickard (Sanderson) 6-2, 6-4; Halle Futch & Emily Holderness (Myers Park) def. Isabella King & Anna Grace Black (Pinecrest) default; Helen Alvis & Camden Clark (Leesville Road) def. Valentina Jimenez & Virginia Jimenez (Hough) default.