Regional realignment means new hope for Ripley tennis
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The move to a new region has given the Ripley girls tennis team a new attitude, and if this year's results are any indication, the Vikings may be establishing a new school tradition.
Ripley has spent years struggling to find success in Class AAA Region 4, which included state powers Huntington, Hurricane, Parkersburg and Cabell Midland, among others, but regional realignment split the teams up before the year.
As a result, the Vikings made their Region 3 debut at Schoenbaum Courts in Kanawha City on Thursday afternoon with five of seven top seeds and qualifying both their No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams for the state tournament. All doubles matches were played on Thursday while singles matches are scheduled to begin today.
George Washington swept both the boys and girls doubles fields, qualifying six tandems for states. (For a full list of results, see Page 2B.)
Ripley was able to accomplish such lofty seeding by finishing the regular season 14-0, recording what coach Greg Varney said is the school's first undefeated season.
One of those wins came against Region 3 power George Washington, but the Patriots played without their No. 3 and No. 4 singles players that day due to prom.
"It was prom day for both of us and I talked our girls into late haircuts," Varney said with a smile.
That match had a lot of bearing on seeding but the full-strength Patriots earned a bit of revenge on Thursday.
But regardless of what happens on the regional level, the Vikings are soaring to new heights and could rewrite the school's record books.
"We checked our trophy case and there's one tennis trophy in all of Ripley High School and I think it's from the late '80s or early '90s," Varney said. "But our girls are the ones that checked it - they have their heads on straight."
In fact, current senior and No. 1 singles player Emily Munson clinched the only state qualification in Varney's 10-year stint at the school last year but she was knocked off in the first round.
Munson was happy to be playing at Schoenbaum Thursday instead of going to Huntington or Parkersburg.
"I've had to put up with [the Region 4 field] the past three years and it's just been hard," she said. "They have a lot more facilities around, where we have to drive farther, so it's hard to play with teams like that."
"I really enjoyed getting moved out of that extremely tough region with Parkersburg and Huntington and Hurricane," Varney admitted. "The SSAC did a great job of reseeding because the whole region got split up into three different directions and I thought that was better for everybody. The coaches [in Region 3] are so nice and they've sort of really welcomed us in. It's been a nice transition."
Shady Spring's No. 1 doubles team of Carly Killmer and Lyndsey Thompson pushed Ripley's team of Munson and Kaitlyn White to the brink before the Vikings finally prevailed 9-8 (9-7) in a quarterfinals match.
The duo fell in the semifinals to Hannah Heft and Madison Fox of Woodrow Wilson but still qualified for states after winning the consolation match (In No. 1 doubles, three teams get state berths while two No. 2 teams and one No. 3 team also clinch spots.)
Munson serves as the team's No. 1 singles player and White the No. 2, but the team's only seniors took very different roads to get to this point.
Munson has played all four years in high school and has already signed to play at Slippery Rock next year while White, who played in middle school, didn't play her first three years in high school before coming back to the game this season.
"I really missed tennis and I enjoyed playing and I was like, 'It's my last year, so I might as well go for it,'" White said.
Varney said White's return to the game has made a huge difference in terms of this season's success.
"Those are two good [seniors]," Varney said. "Munson was my third seed on the middle school team and she's just worked her tail off. White was my one seed and we didn't have her until this year and she's been the missing piece for us to be as successful as we are. She's just a nice player and a great kid."
Munson said White's emergence has even made her appreciate playing doubles more.
"I tend to be more of a singles person usually but this year it's been really good playing with Kaitlyn," Munson said. "Doubles has been growing on me this year, especially with our good season."
The Vikings hope that good season continues and that their debut in their new regional home is a memorable one.
"We have set so many new goals, but I said, 'Girls, we need to go down here with the attitude that we're going to win it and whatever happens, that happens,'" Varney said. "But if we finish first or second, that will be a great end to the regional part of it. I don't think we've scored in the state tournament in 15 years."n Charleston Catholic won all six doubles titles - three boys and three girls - during the opening day of the Class AA-A Region 4 tournament at City Park in Parkersburg (see results, Page 2B).
Singles competitions are set for today. The Irish have won the last seven boys state titles and the last five in girls.