ELIZABETHTOWN — Rivalry of high schools not withstanding, true friendships do last forever.
Once classmates in primary schools, several in Monday’s tennis matchup of East Bladen and visiting West Bladen now wore the respective blue or purple opposite of their friends. When the Lady Knights had finished off a 7-2 Three Rivers Conference triumph, respect for court foes was exchanged amid genuine smiles and even a little laughter with the opponent.
Sportsmanship, on this day, was No. 1.
“I went to school with a lot of these girls in middle school and elementary school,” said West Bladen junior Alyssa Bell. “I kind of like playing here because I know everyone. It’s friendly.”
But it’s not necessarily easy.
“We’ve been friends since we were 4 or 5 years old,” said her teammate, junior Autumn Brisson when speaking of East Bladen senior Anna Kate White. They squared off at No. 2 singles. “It’s hard to play people you know.
“You’re ‘out to win, not make friends,’ ” she said, referencing a popular phrase of expectation used by steely competitors; then she finished the thought with assurance and explanation, “but it’s hard to do that when you’re already friends.”
Rivals and friends. That was this day, as they battled through games closer than the match scores might indicate. Chatter at the changeovers was a bit more than usual, as was the intake of fluids and toweling off in hot, humid conditions.
“I grew up with Alyssa and Autumn,” said Sarah Meares, who at No. 6 gave East Bladen its lone singles win. “And my cousin Kayla plays for West Bladen.”
She spoke of Kayla Norris, a freshman yet to crack the starting lineup, one that through Monday had torn through the opening three weeks of the season 6-0 — all in the Three Rivers. Included are four shutouts.
Meares was a 4-6, 6-4 (10-8) winner over senior Haleigh Dunn. But elsewhere in singles, it was all Lady Knights.
Senior Savannah Lee found a groove to finish senior Ting Lin 7-5, 6-0 at No. 1; Brisson topped White 6-2, 6-1; Bell was first off the courts with a 6-0, 6-0 win over sophomore Lily Lin; senior Mireya Sandoval got past senior Ashley Hardin 6-2, 6-2; and junior Alyssa Smith defeated sophomore Sammi Jiang 6-0, 6-0.
Brisson-Bell were quick in toppling White-Lily Lin 8-1 at No. 1 doubles, and Sandoval-Smith cruised pat sophomore Carlie West-senior Carleigh DeVane 8-0 at No. 3. Ting Lin-Hardin, despite a team decision decided, brought intensity to an 8-1 win over Lee-Dunn.
“Coming in, we thought it’d be o-nine,” Meares said. “But we gave it our best. I tried to get at least one win.”
Lady Eagles head coach Megan Kirby was happy with the effort.
“I told them if we win, we win,” she said. “If not, they’re good, they’re returning everybody. West Bladen, they’re strong one to eight. We got to deuce in a lot of games, so it was closer than the match score. I’m happy with their performance.”
West Bladen head coach Billy Bryant was also pleased.
“Most of the matches went as I thought they would,” he said. “I saw some things to work on in practice.”
Bell agreed, noting doubles play in particular.
“We’ve done really good this time,” she said of the unbeaten start. “The past three years we’ve done good every time. We can work on communication in games. We do good, but we can be better.”
West Bladen’s Savannah Lee was a straight sets winner at No. 1 singles for the Lady Knights.
West Bladen junior Alyssa Bell didn’t lose a game in singles play Monday at East Bladen. She also teamed with Autumn Brisson to win handily in doubles.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.