CHAPMANVILLE — Natasha Williams and Haley Justice are ready for the state tennis tournament.
It’s been a long but rewarding journey for the relative newcomers to the sport.
The Chapmanville Regional High School tennis duo made it to this week’s state meet at Charleston’s Coonskin Park by qualifying at last week’s regionals in Parkersburg.
Williams won two Cardinal Conference titles last year, one in No. 4 singles and one in No. 3 doubles with her then partner Sravya Pidaparthi. The two were undefeated all year in doubles until the regional final when they lost to Charleston Catholic.
This year, Williams has stepped up her game, finishing second in singles and doubles as the No. 1 seed in both. She is also the second girl in Chapmanville tennis history to go to the state tourney in singles and doubles. Kylie Clay accomplished this last year. She is the first to do it in the same year.
Justice also heads to the state tourney on a high note and joins her doubles partner Williams. She was the No. 1 seed for the Chapmanville Middle School tennis team the first year the school had a team three seasons ago.
Last year as a freshman she was Chapmanville’s No. 5 seed and played No. 2 doubles with Emily Stroud, who was a senior. They came up one match shy of making the state tournament when they lost to Poca 8-5 in the regionals.
This year, Justice finished runner-up in singles and doubles at the Cardinal Conference tournament. She qualified for state in No. 1 doubles with Williams.
The Chapmanville tennis team had another outstanding season with a 13-3 record. The CRHS boys were 10-6.
Chapmanville coach Don Saunders said his entire team has come a long way.
“It was tough to lose all of our seniors last year, but this group has stepped in and done such a phenomenal job from day one,” Saunders said. “They took on the leadership of the team and really carried us to a record not many people expected from us. But I think this shows how far we’ve come recently and how dedicated our kids are to the sport.”
Saunders said having Justice and Williams in the state tourney means a lot to the fledgling program.
“I wasn’t sure how things would go in the new region this year with all of the tough teams we had to face,” Saunders said. “But to get two of our girls in the state tournament is great. They’ve worked so hard and I was proud of all of our girls and boys at the regionals. They competed better than I think people thought we would, but it goes to show how much this team and program have improved. I’m excited about the future for us.”
Chapmanville assistant tennis coach Chris Kidd said Williams and Justice are well deserving of their state tournament berths.
“These two girls are special to me,” Kidd said. “All of our players are special to me for different reasons, but these two remind me of moments where I decided I loved to coach. Natasha was the first girl I feel I recruited to start playing when I taught her in the ninth grade when I first got to Chapmanville. She always wanted to get better and learn. Even though she didn’t have the natural ability at first she always worked harder than everybody. I admire her work ethic as much, if not more than any player I’ve ever coached, and she deserved to go to the state tournament so much. She is one of the nicest and most helpful people you could ask for.
“Her younger sister Sammy played for my middle school team the past three years and Natasha was at every practice, and was always willing to help with drills, or fundraisers, or even give tips to other players. You can’t find people like Natasha very often, but I’m glad I had her for these past four years. I’m going to miss her terribly, but am so glad I got to coach and teach her for as long as I did.”
Kidd said he once talked Justice into playing tennis.
“I remember seeing Haley for the first time when her older sister Kristen was playing in my summer league,” Kidd said. “I started asking if she had ever played and if she wanted to play, but we didn’t have a middle school tennis team. Well after that anytime I talked to or ran into Haley it was a constant badgering session of if we were going to have a middle school team. I honestly didn’t want to take it at first, but I’m glad I did now, and I think her persistence and others made me want to do it.
“The girl is as much a competitor and fighter as anyone I’ve ever coached or played with. I love her intensity. She gets a lot of that from her sister, but Haley wants to be the best. She’s one of the sweetest and most kind people you could ever hope to be around, but when she flips that switch on she is as tough as any football player I’ve ever been around. She’ll do whatever it takes to win a match, and I admire her toughness.”
Justice, a sophomore, said she’s glad she took up tennis.
“I started playing my eighth-grade year and the main reason I started was I saw my sister play a few years in high school and she always looked like she was having fun,” she said. “Once I started hitting around with her, I realized how much I enjoyed it and started practicing more.”
Justice, a 3.90 GPA student, said she wants to keep improving her game in her last two years with the CRHS tennis team.
“I always take pride in my school. Now that we’re a tough school to beat it shows how hard everyone is working,” she said. “It really feels amazing to have made it at such a young age. My goals are to keep improving my game each year and keep making it to states and to hopefully win a state tournament one year.”
The regional doubles match between Williams and Justice and the Parkersburg Catholic team determined whether the Chapmanville pair would make it to state.
Williams and Justice ended up winning 9-8 in a 7-5 tiebreaker. The Chapmanville duo led 6-1 in the tiebreak and held off a Catholic rally to win.
“My thoughts were now is the time to pick up our game and play like we know we can,” Justice said. “It’s time to show everyone we can make it and all we have to do is stay focused and communicate with each other. I was still thinking, keep up our game and stay focused the whole time. We are going to make it this year and we are going to play our hearts out today. When we were up 6-1 I just kept saying, ‘one more point and we have this.’ I knew we could win, then when they were catching up at 6-5 I was still saying, ‘one more point and we have this.’”
Justice said she hopes to perform well with Williams at the state tourney but knows just getting there, too, is a big accomplishment.
“I’m hoping to make it as far as we can and play the best we can. I know we can go far in this, but however far we make I’ll be happy we just made it to states,” she said.
Justice said she works well with Williams on the court.
“I would have never made it this far without her,” Justice said. “She made this year great and I will definitely miss her next year. She’s been a wonderful partner and I always had fun on the court with her. She’s a great player and I really couldn’t have been teamed with a better person than her.”
Like Justice, the senior Williams didn’t start playing tennis until later years.
“I started playing tennis my ninth-grade year because I thought that it would be a cool sport to play and I needed a way to stay in shape, plus I had friends that were playing and I thought why not,” said Williams, who is also a good student with a GPA around 3.70.
Williams said it feels great to make it to state.
“It is truly a great feeling. I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the Lord and my wonderful tennis partner Haley Justice. She has truly helped me be a great player and open up to be the player I am now,” she said. “I definitely take pride in school and my athletic ability. I pray that Haley can continue her success throughout her high school career and I wish everyone good luck.”
Williams said she was pumped up for all the big matches last week at the Class AA-A regionals.
“I was pumped for our next match because I knew that we would want it more because we both knew that it was our last chance to make it, and I definitely wanted it considering it was the last regional tournament that I will be competing in,” she said. “I was thinking that now is the time, we have to give it all we got and show people that we deserve to be there and that we really wanted it. I just love the fact that I can goof with my partner and we never lose sight on what we want to accomplish.”
The Parkersburg Catholic pair Williams and Justice beat were considered the favorites.
“I was extremely excited when we won,” Williams said. “It took everything that I had not to lose it on the court and cry like a baby when Haley gave me a bear hug it really meant a lot to me. I am really going to miss being her partner. She is an amazing person. It was a big upset, but I truly don’t believe that I was ready last year for that level of competition. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that this is my senior year and I had such an amazing accomplishment to close out my senior year.”
Williams said she hopes to play well at state.
“I am hoping to make it as far as I can, but I really want to make it that much further with the help of my partner Haley,” she said. “She is truly an amazing player and I know that we can do it. I couldn’t ask for a better doubles partner. We have the most fun when we’re on the tennis court together. It’s just a totally different game when we get together because we play our hearts out and have fun with it.”
Williams said she encourages people to take up tennis because it’s a life sport.
“I would have to say definitely play,” she said. “Tennis is by far the most fun you will have. It is a great sport to get with your friends and have fun. Plus it makes you have more respect for other people. I love my teammates and coaches. I couldn’t have made it this far without their and my parent’s support.”
Williams said she plans on attending Bluefield State in the fall.
“I plan on attending Bluefield state in the fall and study nursing, and yes, I do plan on playing tennis because it is a big part of my life.”