Dual-team regional tournaments
First round, today
Lumberton at East Chapel Hill
Fairmont at East Duplin
LUMBERTON — The championship match of last week’s Southeastern Conference girls’ tennis tournament had plenty on the line, but for the two girls playing, it wasn’t much different than the daily routine.
Lumberton’s one-two duo of Abby Cain and Abby Kinlaw squared off in the same matchup they’ve played numerous times this year.
“It felt like practice,” said Cain, who won the match.
“We were happy for each other,” she said. “We both did really good.”
Really good is making for a busy week as the Pirates start the postseason.
As the SEC’s No. 2 finisher in the regular season, Lumberton takes its entire team to East Chapel Hill today for the first round of the NCHSAA dual-team regional playoffs, which is played weekly between teams until the state championship match on Nov. 2.
The Pirates are also sending a full squad of six players to the 4A Women’s Individual East Regional Championship, which starts on Friday in Wilmington.
The Pirates not only have the two Abbys competing individually, but are also sending their top two doubles teams, the duos of Callie Carter and Elizabeth Branch and Lane Hickman and Kaylynn Leggette.
“Everyone exceeded my expectations,” said first-year coach Brian Buri. “Everyone came up with some big wins in the semifinals which sealed everything for us.”
It’s a success that comes a year after Lumberton did the opposite, missing both playoff chances.
A team built largely around young players, Branch and Carter are the two seniors headed to state. Both have played on the team throughout their four years, but only Carter has made a state trip previously.
“We’re going out with a bang,” Carter said.
Most of the players admit to a bit of skepticism entering the season.
“Having a new coach our senior year, we just didn’t know what to expect but it ended up being just fine,” Branch said.
Lumberton lost only two SEC matches matches, both to league champion Pinecrest, but also played above potential at times.
In the conference tournament, Cain and Kinlaw were ranked Nos. 2 and 4 and finished above their seeds.
Kinlaw’s run included a win over Purnell Swett’s Kali Strickland, the tournament’s top seed.
Kinlaw and Strickland played for three hours before deciding a winner.
“It was really tough because we have the same coach that gives us lessons, so we play alike,” Kinlaw said.
As important as the talent, Buri credits the team’s cohesiveness for its success throughout the year.
Even as the girls play for crucial points at practice, many of the them play with a smile that hardly leaves their face.
“They’re all very close. There’s no groups or clicks or anything,” Buri said. “They’re all friends with everybody and they all hang out together as one big group. Especially for doubles, just to have that relationship with somebody, be able to trust them and know they’re going to make their play is good.”
It’s solid play that Buri and the team hope to continue riding in the regional rounds.
Goal is to get all the six girls past the first round, and best case, right back where the conference tournament ended.
“I want to see everyone back on day 2,” Buri said. “I would love if everyone came back and to be in the same situation where I have both people in the finals. I’d love to have that problem again.”