CHAPMANVILLE — This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Chapmanville Regional High School tennis team.
Natasha Williams and Haley Justice, though, wouldn’t let it be one.
Last season, the Chapmanville girls finished 14-3 and the boys were 12-5.
It was the best record in school history for the Chapmanville tennis program.
The Tigers qualified five team members for the state tournament which was also a school record.
Heading into this spring, however, Chapmanville lost eight starters, including all of the team members which made it to the state tourney.
This year was likely to be a rebuilding year as the team was going to have to make wholesale changes with new faces stepping in.
Chapmanville still had a good season as the girls were 13-3 and the boys finished 10-6.
CRHS was also moved into the most difficult region in the state thanks to the realignment by the WVSSAC. Three private schools — Charleston Catholic (defending state champs), Parkersburg Catholic (state champions in the past), and Huntington St. Joseph (state champion players in the past, including defending No. 1 singles state champion Max Meade who is still on the roster) — were placed in Chapmanville’s new region along with Williamstown and Poca who have also won individual state titles in past years.
Chapmanville was not expected to be a major player in this region and were not expected to qualify anyone for the state tournament.
Williams and Justice proved everyone wrong at last week’s Class AA-A regional tourney in Parkersburg.
Williams, Chapmanville’s No. 1 senior girls singles player, and sophomore No. 1 girls’ double player Justice were able to qualify for the state tournament, which is set for this Thursday through Saturday at Charleston’s Coonskin Park.
All of the Chapmanville girls played in a regional final match to get to the state tournament and four of Chapmanville’s six starting boys did the same.
CRHS coach Don Saunders said it’s been another enjoyable season.
“These kids have been so enjoyable to coach this year,” Saunders said. “We didn’t have as many seniors as last year or as much experience, but they have been working hard since day one to prepare for the chance to make the state tournament. The girls and boys played really well and we pulled out some tight matches and lost a couple of tough ones that might have helped us qualify more. But I’m very proud of this group, and they are still young. So I think we have a promising future for this bunch.”
Chapmanville assistant coach Chris Kidd said he was also thrilled with the results.
“I am extremely proud of this group of kids,” Kidd said. “Many teams in our region expected us to be the whipping boys this year, but this group just didn’t give in to anyone’s expectations of them. And to be as competitive as we were and to be able to qualify players to the state tournament out of this region is amazing. It would be like if they realigned the schools in basketball and all of a sudden Logan, Beckley, Martinsburg, Wheeling Park and South Charleston are just sitting there waiting on you. That’s how difficult it is now to qualify out of this region. I have no idea why we are in this region because the realignment makes absolutely no sense, and frankly the structure of it all makes no sense, but that’s just how things are run in this sport in this state sometimes.
“But that’s what made us so much more proud of them. Last year was a mission. We felt we had to do that well last year because we had so much experience. This year was just a fun rollercoaster ride where we didn’t know what to expect next, and the unexpected seasons are just as rewarding.”
Williams, who was the four seed last year and is now the one seed, was able to qualify for the state tournament by beating Cheyenne Dempsey of Sissonville 8-2 for her first trip to the state tournament.
“She’s been a four year player for us and this is her first chance to go to the state tournament,” Coach Saunders said. “Natasha has always played hard and fair and you love to see a person like her succeed after all of the work she has put in. I’m very happy for her.”
The girls number two seed Justice fell just short of the state tournament in singles, as she won her quarterfinal match 8-3 over Maria Ramey of Mingo Central, but lost to Beth Sutfin of Huntington St. Joseph 8-5 in the semifinals, and then fell to the number one seed in the region Courtney Mobley of Poca.
Chapmanville’s number three seed, junior Sravya Pidaparthi, won her opening match 9-7 over Williamstown’s Alisha Hecht, but was then eliminated by St. Joe’s Lauren Breece 8-2.
Number four seed, freshman Lasya Pidaparthi, made it to the finals by beating Sissonville’s Ryan Henry 8-2, then knocking off Cheyenne McNeil of Poca 8-4 before falling in the finals to Charleston Catholic’s Jenny Borman 8-3.
In doubles, perhaps the most exciting match took place late on Thursday evening when the No. 1 team of Williams and Justice took on the favorites from Parkersburg Catholic Jillie Wiseman and Erica Tracewell.
In a back-and-forth match that saw both sides have brief leads, the Lady Tigers battled Parkersburg Catholic to a deciding tiebreaker where the first team to seven points first leading by two is declared the winner.
Williams and Justice jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the tie-breaker before the Crusaders came back to cut the lead to 6-5. Finally, on the Tigers fifth match point Williams hit a perfect backhand winner down the line to preserve the upset for Chapmanville, and move Williams and Justice into the state tournament.
“It’s ironic,” Kidd said. “I’ve harped on them all year long about going down the line when the net player is cheating over and these two have fought me on that all season. Finally, on the biggest point of the match Natasha hits the greatest backhand of her life down the line when she saw the girl cheating off the line. Thankfully it ended there because I was a wreck watching from outside the fense, and I’m sure everyone else was too. It’s a hundred times more difficult to watch than play. But it was a great atmosphere. Players and parents from other schools were over there watching us and rooting for us because they wanted to see the upset, and the girls came through. It’s one of the best matches I’ve ever watched. I’ll never forget that. And it happened to two of the nicest girls you could ever coach.”
In number two girls doubles the Pidaparthi sisters defeated Pitts and Henry of Sissonville, but then lost in their bid to make the state tournament to Sutfin and Breece of Huntington St. Joe.
The number three girls doubles team of seniors Megan Farley and Natalie Welty also came up one match shy of the state tournament. They defeated Ritchie and Johnson of Mingo Central 8-3, then held off Poca 9-7 before going down to Charleston Catholic in the finals.
“I know all of us were proud of Megan and Natalie,” Kidd said. “Those two have been on the team for two and four years. They never complained and were always team players and they finally got their chance this year and made the most of it. They were runner-up in the Cardinal Conference to Poca and then beat them at the regionals and almost made it to the state tournament. We were all so happy they had a great season.”
On the boys side, junior number one singles player Max Spradlin of Chapmanville was eliminated by Williamstown’s Luke Flanagan, while senior David Cavins lost a heartbreaker in the number two singles to Mingo Central’s Kyle Surber 9-7. Surber went on to advance to the state tourney, the first player from Mingo Central to do so.
In number three singles, freshman Colton Townsend was able to upset Erik Gaynor of Huntington St. Joe 8-6 before falling in his state tournament bid to Charleston Catholic. Number four seed Donovan Abraham lost to eventual regional runner-up Andrew Boktor of Scott 8-3 to end his season.
In doubles, the number one team of Spradlin and Cavins lost 8-2 to Scott’s Caleb Starkey and Blake Chambers.
In the boys number two doubles Townsend and Abraham defeated Sissonville 8-3 before coming up one match short of the state tournament, losing to Williamstown. And in number three boys doubles the freshman duo of Austin Workman and Dakota Saunders upset Scott’s Boktor and Halstead, the number two team in the region 8-6, before going down to Williamstown 8-3 in the next round.
Charleston Catholic continued their dominance of the region, as the boys and girls won every title on the boys and girls side for the second consecutive year.
On the boys side, Charleston Catholic finished first, Williamstown second, Huntington St. Joe third, Scott fourth, Poca fifth, Chapmanville sixth, Parkersburg Catholic seventh, Mingo Central eighth, and Sissonvillle ninth.
On the girls side, Charleston Catholic placed first, Huntington St. Joe was second, Chapmanville finished third, just one match behind St. Joe for second place. Fourth place belonged to Poca. Parkersburg Catholic and Williamstown tied for fifth, Sissonville placed seventh, Scott eighth, and Mingo Central finished ninth.