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Coach Had Tennis State Champion Cape Fear Believing

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By Earl Vaughan Jr.

Cape Fear principal Dr. Jason Jordan, Miranda Lee, Ainsley Thomas, Andi Brinker, Anna Piland, Reggie Fields Athletic Director, Brianna Keen, Madisyn Hall, Shea Bieniek, Brooke Bieniek



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The long journey to Cape Fear High School's girls' state 3-A tennis title goes back to 2015, when Chris Lucas took over the Colt tennis program.
Lucas guided his players on carefully planned steps on the journey to a trophy, getting them to hit the ball year-round and, most important of all, to believe that a school like Cape Fear with little tennis tradition could be a contender for the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s top prize.
In the end, when the Colts beat previously undefeated Forestview 5-3 at the Burlington Tennis Center Saturday, Lucas wanted to share the moment with seven seasons of the school’s best players.
“I think each girl looks back at the previous No. 1 or No. 2 and says, ‘They paved the way. Let me get this done now,’ ‘’ he said.
The current version of the Colts did exactly that, taking a commanding lead during the singles portion of the match, winning four of the first six matches.
The one that most likely turned the tide, according to Lucas, was at the No. 3 court, where freshman Shea Bieniek found herself in a battle with Jessica Normile.
Bieniek took the first set 6-3, but Normile adjusted to Bieniek’s style of play and battled back to make the second set a back-and-forth duel that went to a third-set tiebreaker.
It was during the tiebreak that Bieniek found another gear that carried her to the critical win. “Shea readjusting based off the other girl’s new strategy was pretty huge,’’ Lucas said. “That’s what gave us the fourth win.’’
It was also what earned Bieniek Most Valuable Player honors in the match. She also won her third doubles match with fellow freshman Briana Keen to clinch the match.
“I was very shocked,’’ Bieniek said. “It was a definite surprise. We were all determined. We all deserved it. It just happened to be me.’’
Another key for the Colts was winning two of the first three singles matches. Lucas had seen Forestview’s top three players in the state individual tournament earlier where Cape Fear’s Brooke Bieniek and Anna Piland took home the 3-A doubles title.
He knew Forestview’s No. 1 singles player, Rennie Lu, was tough, which proved accurate as she won two of the Jaguars’ three matches against the Colts.
“The game plan was to take two of the top three singles because we knew their top three singles had been solid for them throughout dual team,’’ Lucas said. “If we could do that, that would give our bottom courts confidence to go out and get the job done.’’
Piland and Shea Bieniek did just that at courts two and three. Two freshmen, Andi Brinker and Brianna Keen, came through with wins at courts five and six respectively.
Brinker, who was named winner of the sportsmanship award for Cape Fear, followed Shea Bieniek’s lead and adjusted to the style of her opponent, Caroline Cronland.
“She hit the ball hard at me but she wasn’t very consistent,’’ Brinker said. “I felt as long as I could keep hitting the ball back to her, she would eventually miss, which is what happened, which is why I won.’’
Brinker admitted that when the season started, visions of a state team title were not in her head. But it became obvious that Lucas had something special in mind.
“Our coach thought we could win it,’’ she said. “He started making us run and do fitness training. He really believed we could do it, which motivated us all and was a big reason why we won.’’
Two of the five teams Cape Fear faced in the state playoffs were unbeaten. A third, county rival Terry Sanford, suffered its only defeats of the year to Cape Fear.
At the end of the playoff run, the Colts eliminated five opponents that before losing to Cape Fear had a combined record of 69-8, a fraction short of 90 percent.
The old hit song that said the future is so bright I need to wear shades definitely applies to this Colt team.
No. 4 singles player and team captain Madisyn Hall is the only member of the Cape Fear state finals top six that graduates.
Keen, Brinker and Shea Bieniek are freshmen, Piland a sophomore, and Brooke Bieniek is the old hand on the team as a junior.
“I feel now that we’ve won we’ll be looked at more as a threat,’’ Brinker said. “They’ll be more pressure on us to perform well.’’
But they won’t need any push to make that happen. Brinker said the Colt players have vivid memories of their only loss this season, a 6-3 setback to East Chapel Hill, which was the state runner up in the 4-A dual team playoffs this season.
Brinker called the loss to East Chapel Hill a humbling experience. “I think if Coach Lucas keeps putting us into games like that to challenge us, and we keep challenging each other, it will keep us working hard and hungry to keep fighting,’’ Brinker said.
Lucas is confident the returning players have plenty of fight for the challenge awaiting them next season.
“The girls are not taking this championship with any complacency,’’ he said. “They are enjoying the win, but they get back out on the court next week to start training.’’

3A WOMEN’S TENNIS DUAL TEAM STATE CHAMPIONSHIP

#5 Cape Fear (17-1) DEF. #1 Forestview (15-1) 5-3

SINGLES

#1 Rennie Liu (FV) DEF. Brooke Bieniek (CF) 6-0, 6-1

#2 Anna Piland (CF) DEF. Maggie Lu (FV) 6-1, 6-0

#3 Shea Bieniek (CF) DEF. Jessica Normile (FV) 6-3, 7-6 (8)

#4 Susan Christy (FV) DEF. Madisyn Hall (CF) 0-6, 6-2,

#5 Andi Brinker (CF) DEF. Caroline Cronland (FV) 6-2, 6-2

#6 Brianna Keen (CF) DEF. Sarah Younan (FV) 6-0, 6-4

DOUBLES

#1 Brooke Bieniek & Anna Piland (CF) vs. Maggie Lu & Jessica Normile (FV); stopped at 6-1

#2 Rennie Liu & Susan Christy (FV) DEF. Madisyn Hall & Andi Brinker (CF) 8-1

#3 Shea Bieniek & Briana Keen (CF) DEF. Caroline Cronland & Sarah Younan (FV) 8-1

Sportsmanship Award Winners: Andi Brinker (Cape Fear) & Susan Christy (Forestview)

3A Dual Team MVP: Shea Bieniek (Cape Fear)


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