Cougars, Saints Girls Have Similar Seasons
By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
St. Catherine’s and Collegiate School girls’ tennis teams are fierce rivals on the court. Their teams are generally composed of some of the finest players in the area, and their records usually reflect the talent and coaching on the squads.
This fall, their seasons followed similar paths. Both were in contention until the final match of the League of Independent Schools tournament, and both were beaten by the same team in the VISAA, Division I championships.
Collegiate (17-3) edged St. Catherine’s (14-4) for the LIS title. The Cougars were runners-up in the VISAA tournament, losing to Cape Henry Collegiate, which was the same team that eliminated St. Catherine’s in the semifinals.
It was the fifth straight LIS crown for Collegiate and 20th overall, but it took a doubles sweep to pull it off.
In what was essentially a dual match between the Cougars and Saints on the final day of competition at Collegiate’s Williams-Bollettieri Tennis Center, Collegiate found itself trailing St. Catherine’s 42-40 after losing four of the six singles matches.
“It was the same thing as last year,” said Collegiate coach Karin Whitt. “We were down two points [to St. Catherine’s] and had to sweep the doubles. Last year was a little bit different because St. Catherine’s didn’t make it to the finals in one of their [singles].
“Everything was head-to-head. Whether we were playing for first or playing off for third, it was head-to-head.”
In the doubles, Anne Miller and Georgia Beazley won quickly over Emma Williams and Callie Nesbitt 10-2 at No. 3, then Katie Wright and Allie Straus beat Kemper Young and Lily Horsley 10-7 at No. 2 after splitting with them in the regular season.
That left it up to Ellie Whitlock and Sarah Johnson at No. 1, where they edged Charlotte Bemiss and Terrell Williams 10-7 for the clinching points. The Cougars finished with 48 points, while St. Catherine’s wound up with 47.
“Collegiate has been known for doubles for years, and we really concentrate on doubles,” said Whitt. “In the pregame speech, I just told the girls, ‘Well, we knew we were going to be here, now here we are, let’s get it done.’
“So we were pretty confident going into doubles. If it had been the other way around, if we needed to win more singles, we would have been less confident. But we always preach the importance of doubles.”
Collegiate defeated St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes 9-0 in the quarterfinals of the VISAA and Norfolk Academy 5-2 in the semifinals, before dropping their second match of the season to Cape Henry Collegiate 5-3 in the final.
“All in all, a very good season,” said Whitt, who completed her seventh season with the Cougars. “But I don’t think, if you had told me at the beginning of the season and before everyone had come out, that we would win LIS again, I would have agreed.
“But as the season progressed, it became more and more of a possibility.”
Beazley, a freshman, supplied a certain point every match at No. 6 singles, going 19-0. She, along with sophomore Miller, and juniors Johnson and Straus, will return. Collegiate will lose two of its top six in Whitlock, a world-ranked water skier, and Wright.
The Cougars are also helped tremendously by having two junior varsity teams that combined for a 25-1 record this season.
Meanwhile, for St. Catherine’s, it was a case of what might-have-been.
The Saints had a powerful lineup but it could have been even stronger, had senior Caroline Jones not been injured just before the season started. Jones had also missed all of the 2012 season because of an injury.
“She would certainly have been one of our top one or two players,” said coach Richard Peyton. “She was our senior captain this year and she didn’t play a match. That did not help us. She was working really hard and playing national tournaments.
“But you can’t say if we had had her, things would have been different but they certainly would have. You have to work with what you have. We also missed Lily Horsley for half the season with a broken finger.”
Horsley is the granddaughter of Waller Horsley, who was quite a player on the local scene back in his day.
Despite those injuries, St. Catherine’s only lost to Collegiate (twice) and Cape Henry Collegiate (twice).
“Considering what we had, I think everybody was really pleased with what we’ve done and the way we’ve improved through the season,” said Peyton, whose team lost two of its first three matches before winning 13 of its next 14.
The Saints gave unbeaten Cape Henry Collegiate its two toughest matches of the season, dropping a pair of 5-4 decisions.
“They won one, two and three singles against pretty much everyone because they’ve got nationally-ranked players [at those positions],” said Peyton. “And they won at number one and two doubles against everybody.
“They’re a stronger team than anybody and unquestionably the best team in Virginia.”
Bemiss, the No. 1 player for the Saints, is the only player graduating from the top six so they should be strong again in 2014.
“Charlotte Bemiss is going to be a big loss, but I think Terrell Williams is going to be stepping up for us,” said Peyton. “I know these girls are really excited about next year and they’re already working hard to get ready.
“[Eighth-grader] Lindsay White really has a passion for the sport and could play No. 6 for us next year.”
Don’t be surprised if these two rivals battle it out next season for the LIS title and be strong contenders for the VISAA crown.