Mary Kennedy thought back Tuesday to her first couple seasons on the E.C. Glass girls tennis team. Those teams endured some growing pains and took lumps in both district and non-district action.
But Kennedy, now a junior and the unquestioned leader of this year's team, was all smiles Tuesday. She helped Glass notch a state tournament berth with a 5-0 victory over visiting Jefferson Forest and punch their ticket to the Region 4D finals.
"I remember freshman and sophomore year we can't beat LCA and all these teams, and we came back and beat them this year," Kennedy said, referencing Glass' sweep in Seminole District play and its overall 17-1 record. "I am really proud of the team because we've come so far."
Kennedy powered her way past talented JF freshman Mallory Marsteller at No. 1 singles 6-2, 6-1. At No. 2, Glass freshman H.G. Sackett defeated Danielle Syrek 7-6 (7-2), 6-1.
People are also reading…
Glass also swung its way past JF (13-5) in singles at Nos. 4, 5 and 6. Lilly Hall defeated Megan Bell 6-3, 6-0 at No. 4. Playing at No. 6, Glass' Amelia Uhl won against Raina Shah 6-0, 6-1. And at No. 5 singles, Josie Kicklighter ended the match when, after defeating Amelia Edmonds in the first set, she played through a nail-biter of a second set and eventually won 7-6 (10-8).
Her victory meant the No. 3 singles set featuring JF's Rita Zing and Glass' Elizabeth Eskridge did not finish.
"It was really tough," Kicklighter said of her match against Edmonds. "I thought for sure I was gonna lose and we were gonna have to do another set. But I stayed in there. I just waited for her to make an error and I just focused on being consistent and pulled it off."
It was the second playoff victory in two days for the Hilltoppers, who swept visiting Orange County on Monday. Playing 24 hours after opening the playoffs helped Kennedy, who is undefeated in singles play this season.
"We played yesterday as well, so I think I was prepared to stay in the game mentally, and I think that worked to my benefit today," she said.
Glass will host the Region 4D championship Thursday. That match will determine whether the team heads on the road for a first-round state match or stays at home.
Forest was eliminated from postseason contention, but two of its players will make appearances in the upcoming Region 4D singles and doubles championships. Marsteller will compete in region singles action and will team up with doubles partner Syrek. It's a freshman-senior duo coach Brady Taylor has been impressed by this season.
Marsteller and Syrek, for example, split with Kennedy and Eskridge in two regular-season faceoffs this season.
"We're looking for some good possibilities in the doubles bracket, for sure," Taylor said. "Even though Mallory is a freshman, it really seems like they've been together a real long time. They figured each other out, they know what each other is going to do.
"And they're both good players individually, with different styles. So when you put them together in doubles, a little bit of everything gets thrown at the other team, and a lot of times they can't handle it."
Sackett, who has provided lots of firepower for Glass in her first varsity season, is the first freshman Hilltoppers coach Diane Brown has allowed to play No. 2 singles in her tenure. Sackett has been playing tennis since she was little, she said, but really began to enjoy it a couple years ago when she started working with her coach, Shea Thomas, at Boonsboro Country Club.
On Tuesday, Sackett was extra locked in against Syrek. The two split a pair of regular-season meetings, one of just two losses Sackett has on the season.
"I just had to focus on my court only," the Glass freshman said. "I didn't look around me, I just blocked everything out. You really have to dig deep in matches like this."
Now she's on to a new experience.
"I'm really excited [about a state tournament berth], since I'm a freshman and this is my first year on the team. I've never experienced tennis like this, like going to states. I think our team has a really good shot."
So does Kicklighter, a junior. This team, she said, is the best one she's been a part of. The run, or maybe some matches she's played in, have taught her a lesson about competing.
"Just don't give up even when you feel like you're going to lose," she said. "And it doesn't matter if [an opponent] is ranked higher than you, you still have a chance to win, and you shouldn't just give up from the beginning."
Also in individual region action, Kennedy will compete in the 4D singles tournament and team up with Eskridge in the doubles tourney.
Blacksburg 5, E.C. Glass 1
The 2021 Class 4 champions had few problems at E.C. Glass, notching a state berth in dominant fashion.
The Hilltoppers' lone win came at No. 6 singles, from Isaac Hardin, who defeated Carson Rigger 7-5, 6-3.
The Hilltoppers rolled over visiting Orange County in Monday's opening round but end their season with a 13-3 record that includes two Seminole District losses, a rarity in the program's recent history.
Also in the Region 4D boys semifinals, Jefferson Forest lost at Western Albemarle 5-0 to end its season.
Region 4D Semifinals
E.C. Glass 5, Jefferson Forest
At E.C. Glass
Singles: Mary Kennedy (ECG) d. Mallory Marsteller 6-2, 6-1; H.G. Sackett (ECG) d. Danielle Syrek 7-6 (7-2), 6-1; Elizabeth Eskridge (ECG) vs. Rita Zing DNF; Lilly Hall (ECG) d. Megan Bell 6-3, 6-0; Josie Kicklighter (ECG) d. Amelia Edmonds 6-2, 7-6 (10-8); Amelia Uhl (ECG) d. Raina Shah 6-0, 6-1.
Records: E.C. Glass 17-1. Jefferson Forest 13-5.
Next: E.C. Glass receives automatic state berth and advances to regional finals.
Region 4D Semifinals
Blacksburg 5, E.C. Glass 1
At E.C. Glass
Singles: Jace Deck (B) d. Devon Davis 6-3. 6-1; Yash Gollapudi (B) d. Pierce Martin 6-3, 6-4; Larry Wang (B) d. Sebastian Ploch 6-4, 6-2; Kyle Kelmba (B) d. Ben Mays 6-1, 6-3; Lucas Mertes (B) d. Carson Layman 2-6, 6-4, 7-6; Isaac Hardin (ECG) d. Carson Rigger 7-5. 6-3.
Records: E.C. Glass 13-3. Blacksburg 13-2.
Next: Blacksburg receives automatic state berth and advances to regional finals.