Durham Academy’s fall 2017 sports season came to a close on Saturday in the most thrilling of fashions — with a nail-biting, come-from-behind victory by the varsity girls tennis team in the state championship matchup. It’s the first state title ever for DA’s girls tennis program and the first state championship earned by any DA team since 2012.
The DA girls tennis team, at the top of the private school tennis world all season, capped off a magical year with a 5-3 comeback win over Cary Academy in the state championship match Saturday, held at Salem Academy in Winston-Salem.
"I am really proud of the grit and fight this team had Saturday," head coach Andy Pogach said. "Going down 3-0 after doubles was not really how we wanted to start, but no one on the team let that affect their singles play. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It made the girls fight a little bit harder knowing we had no room for error."
The contest got off to a tough start. Despite going 6-0 vs. the Chargers in doubles during the regular season, the Cavs were staring at a 3-0 deficit at the conclusion of the doubles matches. The captain duo of senior Nicole Riepl and junior Julia King could not get it going on court 3 in their 8-3 loss. On court 2, the pair of junior Joy Callwood and sophomore Renee George lost for the first time all season, an 8-6 defeat. On the top court, sophomores Madeline Towning and Alexis Galloway let leads of 3-0 and 7-5 slip away in a 9-8 loss.
Going down 3-0 after doubles was not really how we wanted to start, but no one on the team let that affect their singles play. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It made the girls fight a little bit harder, knowing we had no room for error.
With their backs against the wall and needing to win five of the six singles matches to reach their ultimate goal, little by little the DA girls began to take control of their matches. Galloway was first — a 6-1, 6-1 winner on court 3, a position that DA went 21-0 on during the year. Towning had the victory that started to make everyone believe the Cavs could pull off the win. After a 6-0 first set win, she fell behind 3-0 in the second and lost 7-5, sending her match to a third-set 10-point tiebreaker with what felt like the championship on the line. After a 1-4 deficit in the race to 10, Towning ran off 6 of the next 7 points and eventually won the match 6-0, 5-7, 10-7. For the next 30 minutes, the DA girls took control of the match and turned what could have been a sad ending to a great season into an epic championship win to end the best season in school history. Sophomore Taylor Hunter on court 5 finished off a 6-3, 6-4 win over a competitor who had beaten her in both regular-season meetings. George capped off a brilliant season with a 6-2, 6-2 win on court 4, her school-record 29th win on the year.
Riepl described the feeling of witnessing the tide turn in favor of the Cavs as one she’ll always remember.
“During my match, I remember looking over at my teammates' courts, and seeing they were all winning, and I couldn't help but smile, knowing we had a strong chance to win,” she recalled. “Slowly, but surely, we were winning the matches we needed. Once Taylor Hunter won her match (to a girl she had never beat), I immediately got chills because of how proud I was of her, and of how I knew that was one of the key deciding matches.”
With the match at 4-3 DA, Callwood was still in her first set on court 1, and Riepl was in the middle of her second set on court 2. Riepl trailed 4-5 in her first set before taking control and winning 9 of the final 11 games. When Cary Academy’s shot went wide capping off her 7-5, 6-2 win, it gave the DA team its fifth singles match win — and the state championship. Callwood, the TISAC Player of the Year and All-State selection, was 6-6 when the match was halted.
“Many people asked what I did to help win the championship, especially coming down from 3 down,” Callwood said. “Last night I dreamt of winning that championship, I demanded, and I refused to lose. All I did was give my team the confidence to know that we would win. As I player, I define myself on how I affect my team because they make me a better player.”
"It was a storybook ending for Nicole Riepl as she completed an amazing career by clinching the final match," Pogach said. "She persevered through a knee injury her sophomore year and came back to make a huge impact on our team. The leadership that she and Julia showed this year as captains was impressive."
Riepl attributes the team’s success to the group’s understanding of how to “play as a real team and how to trust each other.
“Words really can't describe how much it means to have won the state championship,” she said. “I consider it the greatest day of my life, and it feels even greater that this was such an achievement for the entire school. I am so proud to have contributed to this great accomplishment, especially because of the positive impact it had on the school.”
A video of the final point and celebration is below.