BLACKSBURG — Gate City’s Taylor Evans and doubles partner Tressa Lunsford were only four points away from clinching a VHSL Group A team tennis championship for the Lady Blue Devils when play at the Radford University courts was halted by a storm delay.
After a more than two-hour wait, Evans and Lunsford coolly won four straight to hold service and beat Bland County’s Kayla Dillow and Erika Duncan 6-4, 6-2 indoors at Virginia Tech’s Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center. The win put Gate City over the top in a 5-2 victory over the Bears in Saturday’s state finals.
The Lady Blue Devils have won six Group A team tennis titles over the past eight seasons. But this was the first in the three-year tenure of coach Delonda Spivey.
“They said ‘We don’t want to wait.’ And I said, ‘If you’ve waited this long to win a state championship, we can wait until this rain goes away,’ ” Spivey said. “It’s tough waiting when you’ve played so hard and so long and you know you’re only 10 minutes away, give or take a few. They were just really anxious to get it over.”
Evans, who defeated Duncan 6-2, 6-0 at No. 4 singles, served all four points.
“On the way up here I tried to stay focused on the match,” said Evans, a rising junior. “Me and Tressa knew we had to stay focused for the whole team.”
The recently graduated Lunsford, who wasn’t in the singles lineup, had arguably waited longer for the moment than some of her teammates.
“This the first year that I’ve ever gotten to play, so to be part of the team that just won the final match of the state championship was the most incredible feeling, ever,” Lunsford said.
Gate City was on the verge of winning the match in singles, but Bland County’s Kirby Mustard fought off Tori Bowen at No. 2, a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory, to throw the championship into doubles.
Mustard, who paired with Sarver to win two state individual doubles championships and was a starter on the Bears’ state tournament basketball squad, had more than an inkling of what could be riding on her match — her longest match of the season.
“It was kind of in the back of my mind,” said Mustard, who’ll play tennis at Concord next fall. “(Bowen) was really good and we had to keep fighting her. It was hot and it was long, but we got it done.”
Bowen swallowed her heartbreak and went over to cheer Evans and Lunsford.
“I felt like I played my hardest and sometimes it just doesn’t work out,” said Bowen, who’ll be a senior next year. “I think that I tensed up a lot of times when I should’ve hit through the ball. But overall, she’s a great player and I didn’t pull it out today.”
Bland County ace Grace Sarver, who won her second straight individual state singles title Thursday, defeated Lady Blue Devils ace Jordan Barnes at No. 1 singles. Saturday’s 7-5, 6-2 final score was not only a far cry from Sarver’s 6-0, 6-1 thumping of Barnes in the singles finals, it was Sarver’s most challenging high school match, ever.
“It was the toughest match I’ve played in two years. I think she pushed me. I wasn’t playing my best, but I think I really kept my head and stuck with it,” said Sarver, who has yet to drop a set in prep play.
Barnes, who’ll be at East Tennessee State next fall, learned a few things after facing Sarver in the singles and doubles tournaments.
“It gave me some ideas and it gave me something to build on,” said Barnes, who jumped out to a 3-1 lead over Sarver in the first set. “I just thought I didn’t have anything to lose and I’d better give it my all and do the best I could. I came out swinging.”
Despite the troubles at the top, Gate City’s depth down the order carried the day. Alex Fritz won at No. 3 singles, beating Dillow 6-0, 6-0.
At No. 5, Rachel Carter toppled Rebecca Havens 6-2, 6-0, and Callie Barber emerged a 6-2, 7-5 winner over Alison Morgan at No. 6 singles.
“It was pretty tough. It was hard the last set,” said Barber, whose match was surrounded by fans. “Yesterday we had three courts going. It was kind of all in this corner today. But it’s good, though. It’s great to have support.”
That’s basically what the Gate City girls do for one another.
“We’ve all been pushing each other very hard,” said Carter, who competed on last year’s state runner-up squad and accompanied the team but didn’t play when the Lady Blue Devils last won it in 2007.
Fritz, a sophomore, is the third of her siblings to play on a Gate City state championship tennis team.
“My girl was really good. She was really consistent. But in the end I guess I just got the ball over the net more than her. There is nothing bad to say about her. She was a great player,” Fritz said of Dillow.
“We’ve been working for this for forever. This is all that we want,” she added. “But nobody tells us that we have to win. They just lift us up and let us know that whatever happens, we’re still teammates.”