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As Fike High sophomore Logan Adkins labored on the No. 1 singles court against Cleveland in the opening round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A girls tennis playoffs Wednesday afternoon, the shrill of a whistle could be heard putting the Golden Demons football team through their paces.
Adkins won’t be donning shoulder pads and a helmet Friday night and she will not be among the offensive line opening holes for the likes of Cody Cooper-Speight and Justin Daniels.
But in a dual-team tennis setting? Adkins can throw a bone-jarring block for a teammate that rivals any seen under the crisp fall lights.
Like she has done all season for the undefeated Big East Conference champions, Adkins’ presence at No. 1 singles allowed Fike’s depth to filter down the lineup, and the Lady Golden Demons easily moved into next week’s second round with a 6-0 win. A 6-2, 6-3 win for Adkins at No. 1 singles over Cleveland’s Sarah Rose provided the clinching point in a battle of first-year players at the No. 1 spot.
Now 18-0, Fike will host 3-A/4-A Mideastern Conference champion Wilmington New Hanover (18-3) in next week’s second round, set for Tuesday. New Hanover swept Jacksonville in singles play to advance. Cleveland, the No. 2 seed from the Greater Neuse River Conference, had its season ended with an 11-5 record. Doubles was not contested with the outcome in hand for Fike.
With Big East No. 2 Rocky Mount knocking out previously unbeaten Clayton 6-3 on Wednesday, the Lady Demons are assured of home-court advantage until the 3-A title match, should they continue to advance.
“I enjoy being out there,” Adkins said of the No. 1 singles spot. “I like playing people better. It helps me realize what I need to work on, what I’m good at and what I execute well. But I think by taking the hit for the team at No. 1, everyone else may realize that they can pull it off.”
That’s not to say Adkins is a sitting duck on the showcase court. Far from it, in fact. Her victory over Rose on Wednesday boosted her singles record to 16-2, a resume that includes a win over Currituck’s Sarah Dover, a NCHSAA 2-A individual semifinalist last season. But Adkins’ lot in the 3-A individual regional will be in doubles with teammate and junior Anna Blair Thomas. Her dual-team challenges get no easier from here, as New Hanover freshman Mary Davis Thompson (20-1) awaits as the likely singles opponent in the second round.
But on a Fike team with three plausible No. 1 seeds in Adkins, sophomore Jena Hebbard and sophomore Macy Hebbard, Adkins will gladly serve as the dual-team tennis version of an offensive tackle to spring the Hebbard sisters for positive yardage.
The scenario worked perfectly against the Lady Rams. At Nos. 2 and 3 singles respectively, Jena and Macy were completely unscathed in 6-0, 6-0 victories. Macy Hebbard’s win kept her unbeaten in 17 matches.
“Me, Macy and Jena, all three of us could be up there right now,” Adkins said of the No. 1 singles seed. “But by me being out there, it gives them an opportunity to excel at two and three and just bring the team up.”
Fike coach Lee Matthews improved to 14-1 all-time in first-round playoff matches.
“For the most part, up and down the lineup, we played exactly like I expected,” Matthews said.
The Lady Demons’ bottom half of the singles order emerged tougher during long rallies and pulled off the majority of deuce games. Sophomore Avery Rose Brown, senior Rachel Boswell and Thomas all won their matches, with Boswell and Thomas pulling off 6-2, 6-3 wins in the Nos. 5 and 6 singles spot. Brown stopped Cleveland’s AnnaKate Gilchrist 6-2, 6-2.
“It’s not like we’re down there and every game is love and we’re only hitting five and six balls and winning all the points,” Matthews said. “It’s interesting and it can be kind of lengthy at times.”
Eventually, that length flustered Cleveland at the Nos. 4-6 spots.
“We’re usually OK,” Cleveland coach Emily Parker said of keeping the ball in play. “Not strong, but it’s not our weakness. We can usually hold a rally OK. We also sometimes get impatient and that’s when we make mistakes and hit into the net or hit them long.”
Matthews said that length and willingness to grind out points must continue to be on display against New Hanover.
“We’re going to have to stay tough and win some points down in the lineup,” he said.
FIKE 6, CLEVELAND 0
Logan Adkins (F) def. Sarah Rose 6-2, 6-3; Jena Hebbard (F) def. Abby Siegert 6-0, 6-0; Macy Hebbard 6-0, 6-0; Avery Rose Brown (F) def. AnnaKate Gilchrist 6-2, 6-2; Rachel Boswell (F) def. Madison Ingle 6-2, 6-3; Anna Blair Thomas (F) def. Caty Holbrook 6-2, 6-3.
Doubles not played with outcome decided.