‘I want a rematch’: Bears sweep doubles matches to take down Knights in regular-season finale

Posted 6/9/21

SILER CITY — The inter-county rivalry between the Bears and Knights is fueled by a fun, competitive spirit, regardless of the sport.

Last Friday’s women’s tennis match between Chatham …

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‘I want a rematch’: Bears sweep doubles matches to take down Knights in regular-season finale

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SILER CITY — The inter-county rivalry between the Bears and Knights is fueled by a fun, competitive spirit, regardless of the sport.

Last Friday’s women’s tennis match between Chatham Central and Chatham Charter was no different. It had it all: furious comebacks, close matches, lengthy rallies, dominant sweeps and overall impressive tennis.

The Bears earned the win in the regular-season finale, 6-3, to improve to 5-3 as a team this season, but not without having to fend off the young, hungry Knights (5-5) to get there.

While it may have been a glorified practice for both teams — who will both have players heading to regionals on June 18 — the level of competition shown throughout the day had some coaches wanting more.

“Oh yeah, I want a rematch,” Kelly Eldridge, Chatham Charter’s head tennis coach, said. “Just because it was so close and I think in another match, it could go another way. It was just a great match to watch.”

Eldridge is primarily referring to the final match of the day between each team’s top doubles duo, consisting of Knights freshman Elphie Spillman and junior Emery Eldridge — Kelly’s daughter — against Bears senior tandem Sophie Phillips and Mary Grace Murchison.

Entering the match, Phillips and Murchison were protecting a perfect doubles record this season (4-0) and standing on a 28-9 overall record in three seasons. Over the last few years, they’ve learned how to work with each other’s skillsets, build up a ton of on-court chemistry and figure out the best ways to communicate during points, contributing well to their success.

And, most importantly, they’re having a great time doing it.

“They have a lot of fun, which can actually frustrate me when I’m watching them because they’re laughing and having such a good time,” Wendy Phillips, the Bears’ assistant tennis coach and Sophie’s mother, said. “But I think it actually makes them play better.”

“And I think it frustrates the opponents when we’re just joking around,” added Sophie.

Take the veteran bond between Phillips and Murchison and compare that to the duo of Spillman and Eldridge, who have played just eight matches together (3-6) yet have had a fair amount of success in developing similar chemistry.

“She’s really good at net and I’m not as confident there,” Spillman said, referring to Eldridge, “so I love playing with someone who likes being at net.”

Eldridge’s play at the net — a dominating presence up front — and Spillman’s ability to lock down the backside is a prime reason why the Knights duo jumped ahead early in their match against the Bears.

Spillman/Eldridge took three of the first five games of the match, leading 3-2 in their eight-game pro set — meaning the first team to win eight games (by two) takes the match — but it wouldn’t be long before Phillips/Murchison caught up, settling in and storming back to take an eventual 7-5 lead. All they needed was one more game, but it wouldn’t come easy.

“We’ve come back several times before and I remember one specific match, in doubles, it was like 2-7 and we won the next however many games in a row and came back,” Spillman said. “So we’re good at not letting that get to us. We’re just taking it one point at a time and not trying to stress too much about the bigger picture.”

Spillman/Eldridge began methodically dissecting the Bears’ duo, capitalizing off of minor mistakes as they crept back into it. They would end up tying the match at 7-7, but Phillips/Murchison didn’t let the comeback faze them, finishing them off with two straight victories to seal the deal and improve to a still-perfect 5-0 on the season.

“We were over-hitting, we were being too aggressive,” Phillips said. “When we were down, we just told each other to be smart, that we don’t need to hit hard or be too powerful.”

“I think the last two sets, we realized we had to get our crap together,” Murchison said with a laugh.

For Phillips, the doubles win was a way to get revenge on Spillman, who defeated her handily in their no. 1 singles match earlier in the day.

Spillman hopped out to an early lead, but after a couple of games, Phillips began to battle dehydration issues, which caused her to feel dizzy and struggle with her footwork throughout the match.

The Knights freshman eventually took a 9-2 advantage in the 10-game pro set before Phillips — who had taken frequent breaks to hydrate — finally started to regain her footing, winning three games in a row.

But it was a little too late. Spillman would go on to win the following game and take the match, 10-5.

Murchison, who Wendy Phillips has designated as a “human backboard” for the way she can return anything hit to her, earned an even larger victory over Eldridge in their singles match, 10-3, which can be credited to her speed and aggressiveness, especially in singles play.

The Bears — who had wins from Murchison, sophomore Livvy Brooks (10-2) and freshman Rachel Albright (10-8) — and Knights — wins from Spillman, junior Ashlyn Hart (10-6) and sophomore Rebecca Brookshire (10-3) — split their singles matches, 3-3, but it was doubles play where Chatham Central truly shined and pulled away from their opponent.

In addition to Phillips/Murchison’s 9-7 win, the duos of Brooks & Ellie Phillips — Sophie’s sister — swept their match, 8-0, while the tandem of Grace Jones and Savannah Stillwell won theirs, 4-0, after Knights senior McKenna Reives had to leave the match in the fifth game.

With Friday being Senior Day for Chatham Charter, Kelly Eldridge chose to play four of her seniors — Lacie Clark, Holly Askins, Lauren Scotten and Reives — in the last four doubles spots to give them a chance to play in their final match as Knights.

On June 1, Chatham Charter participated in the Central Tar Heel conference tournament, where Spillman, the tournament’s runner-up, and Emery Eldridge both qualified as singles in the 1A East Regionals in Greenville by placing in the top four.

This will be Eldridge’s third trip to regionals, but the first for Spillman, who’s playing her first season of high school tennis.

“I’m really looking forward to, as a freshman, for Elphie to be able to see this level of competition … and I don’t think she’s going to be as nervous, she’s just like ‘Let’s do it,’” Kelly Eldridge said. “And (Emery’s) not as consistent, but she’s aggressive. When she’s on, she’s just very aggressive … and she has this killer instinct. I’m looking forward to seeing that.”

As for the Bears, they played the first day of the two-day Yadkin Valley conference tournament on Tuesday, where their top-two duos — Sophie Phillips/Murchison and Ellie Phillips/Brooks — made it to the semifinals and qualified for the 1A West Regionals in Elkin.

“(Sophie and Mary Grace) don’t get mad at each other, they’ve learned to just cheer each other on and play a good, mature game of tennis,” Heather Brooks, Chatham Central’s head coach and Livvy’s mom, said. “Livvy and Ellie are getting to that point … they’ve played really good and I think by the time they’re seniors, we might see some remarkable things from them.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.


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