CHAPMANVILLE — Six athletes will represent the Chapmanville Regional High School boys and girls tennis squads at this weekend’s state tournament in Charleston.
After setting school records for most wins in a season and dominating the Cardinal Conference Championships by taking 13 of the 14 titles, the Tigers are now ready for state play.
On the girls’ side, some familiar faces will be making the trip back to Charleston, as 2014 state champions and juniors Cassidy Lewis, Myla Bryant and Sara Lambert will all be vying for a second state crown.
Lewis will compete for Chapmanville in No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, while Bryant will be fighting her way through the No. 2 singles draw and No. 2 doubles draw.
Lewis and Bryant are two of only five Chapmanville girls to ever qualify for singles and doubles in the same season. Lambert, who won the state tournament in doubles with Bryant as her partner two years ago, will join her once again, this time in the No. 2 doubles position.
Making her first state tournament appearance is sophomore Savannah Toney, who qualified with Lewis in the No. 1 doubles position in her first full season playing in the top six slots.
Bryant said she’s nervous, but also that it’s an honor to go back to the state tournament.
“It’s such an honor to be given the opportunity not once but twice to go to state,” Bryant said. “I’m not as nervous as I was as a freshman. I feel I’m better mentally and I know what to expect going into doubles although I can’t really say the same thing for singles. I’m quite nervous about that part because I don’t know what to expect, but I know how to place the ball better to make my opponent run, plus I’m all alone on the court in singles but in doubles I have Sara to keep me calm.”
Bryant said she has had a lot more fun this season, and is happy with the year she’s had.
“The season has gone well and I have had fun,” she said. “When it really comes down to it, it’s all about having fun. If you aren’t enjoying it then what’s the point?”
In 2014, Bryant and Lambert won the No. 3 doubles title after defeating Robert C. Byrd in the semifinals 6-0, 6-1 in the semifinals before outlasting Bluefield in an epic final that lasted two and a half hours, as the then freshmen won 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.
Bryant said she still remembers being stunned after the final point.
“The most memorable was when it came down to the last point,” she said. “Our opponent ended up missing a shot into the net and Sara and I weren’t really sure how to react, we just kind of stood there looking at each other like ‘did we just really win states as freshman?’ and then we saw Mr. Kidd start crying and everyone started celebrating, then it really clicked that we did it. And I love the fact that I am returning to states with Sara once again. We play so well together and just know what the other one is thinking. I wouldn’t want to be going back with anyone else.”
Lambert, who is also a three-time conference champion in doubles with Bryant, said it feels great to be back in the state tournament.
“To make it back to the state tournament is a great feeling, and it feels better to know that I’ve been there before,” she said. “It’s more familiar than going the first time because we had no idea what to expect going into it as freshman. And realizing that I’m going in to my last season, I’ve learned to play the game I love, and not worry about anything I can’t change, and hopefully we have the same outcome as our 2014 season, but if we don’t, I know that we have gave it our all, and it will all be okay eventually.”
Lambert also said she has fond memories of winning the title with her partner two years ago, and feels they have gotten better together.
“I can never thank Myla enough for being the partner she is,” she said. “I put my entire trust in her on the court, and it was a great experience when we won and a memory we will always have together. I wouldn’t walk onto that state tournament court with anyone but her. And I feel as if since winning the state title as a freshman, our swings have advanced and the ball is leaving our racquet at a harder speed. We play better now than we did then, and we are as comfortable with each other as partners can get on a court, and that counts for a lot.”
Lewis, who like Bryant will be competing in singles and doubles, says she put in a lot of work to get back to the state tournament after missing out last season.
“It’s like all of the hard work I’ve poured into the whole season has finally paid off,” Lewis said. “I’m very thankful for my coaches, and especially Mr. Kidd who has been my coach since the sixth grade, and the biggest influence in tennis that I have had. I also wouldn’t be the player I am today if it weren’t for Mike Hanshaw. I’ve been blessed with so many people that have given me so many tips and advice, and I couldn’t have done it without them. And I would like to say thank you to my amazing family and spectacular teammates for all that they’ve done for me. I am so thankful for all that I have accomplished, and I give all the glory to God. None of this would be possible without Him.”
Lewis, who was the No. 4 seed last year for Chapmanville, jumped all the way to No. 1 this season, and said she exceeded her expectations in both singles and doubles.
“I stepped into the number one position from the four position, and I was very anxious to see if I could even compete with all of the girls,” she said. “I truly exceeded my personal expectations though. I was not only able to compete with the girls, but I was able to qualify for the state tournament as three seed from our region.”
Like Bryant and Lambert, Lewis won the doubles state title as a freshman in 2014 with her then partner Haley Justice, who was the winningest player in Chapmanville history and played this past season at Pikeville University.
The duo won the No. 2 doubles state title by eliminating three No. 1 teams, first defeating Bridgeport 8-6 in the quarterfinals, then knocking off Bluefield in the semifinals 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, and upsetting Parkersburg Catholic in the finals, who they had lost to all three times in the regular season and regional final, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Lewis said she still gets excited thinking about their run to the title.
“I get chills every time I talk about winning states two years ago,” she said. “You’d think that after two years, returning to the memory wouldn’t be quite as exciting, but I never get tired of talking about it. The best part was being able to share the whole experience with Haley. The moment we won is a blur to me. I remember freezing as Haley hit the last shot, and then all of a sudden, she was hugging me and we were crying. Both of our families, friends, and teammates were there to celebrate with us. The whole experience is something that I will never forget. Haley was a huge factor in persuading me to keep pushing myself to be better.”
For Toney, breaking into the top six on the team was a goal of hers coming into the season after being seventh on the team as a freshman.
“It took a lot of dedication to the game to move inside the top six this year,” Toney said. “Our team is extremely competitive and closely matched. I had to practice almost every single day. Being unseeded last year, I made the decision to do everything I could to improve my game so I could be seeded in the next season. I am very excited to be going to the state tournament my first season being seeded, and I’m ecstatic to see my work paying off.”
For the boys’ team, sophomore Austin Hanshaw will be competing in the No. 1 singles draw for the Tigers, and will be making his first appearance in the state tournament, while senior Colton Townsend will also be making his first appearance in the state tournament, as he qualified in the No. 2 singles position.
After being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the region as a freshmen last year, Hanshaw said the biggest change he made was mentally.
“The main difference from last year to this one was my mindset changed,” Hanshaw said. “The hardest part of playing as the one seed in tennis is that you have to play everyone else’s top player, so you have no easy matches.”
Hanshaw also said being in the state tournament is amazing, but it still hasn’t sunk in.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “I mean, I’m one of the top 16 AA-A tennis players in the state of West Virginia, and that’s a pretty big deal, but I still don’t believe I feel the full effect of being in the state tournament yet. It’s going to be an interesting experience.”
Townsend, who closes his career with four conference titles, had never made it to the state tournament until this season, coming up one match shy on four separate occasions in Chapmanville’s loaded region, and trailed Scott’s Eric Constant 4-3 in the pivotal match to go to the state tournament this year before winning the final five games to finally breakthrough.
Townsend said it was a nerve racking season trying to make his first state tournament appearance.
“I have to say that this year it was extremely nerve racking to me trying to qualify because it was my last shot to leave a mark,” he said. “I’m happy it all played out the way it did this year though. I just want to express how proud I am of our program. I can’t thank the coaches, parents, and my fellow athletes enough. Not only have they all had an influence on me on the tennis court but also in everyday walks of life.”
Townsend was also named team captain this year for the Tigers.
“I was very humbled to have my teammates elect me as captain,” he said. “I have tried to always do the right thing and lead in the best way possible.”
Townsend said he plans on attending Marshall University and majoring in business marketing in the fall, and then pursuing a law degree.
The state tournament gets underway Thursday morning at 8 a.m. at the Schoenbaum Tennis Courts in Charleston and will run through the championship matches on Saturday.