Three matches, three wins. That’s where the Owen High School girls’ tennis team stood last week heading into an Aug. 30 contest against Smoky Mountain.
Earlier in the week, the Warlassies defeated McDowell 6-3 before turning their attention to the Mustangs. Owen opened the 2018 season with a win over Pisgah on Aug. 15, before following it up with victories over East Henderson and McDowell. In addition to the three wins, Owen split a pair of exhibition matches with A.C. Reynolds.
This year’s squad is achieving its success with only one senior on the roster, captain Margaret Hey. The Warlassies lost five of their six singles starters from last year to graduation. Hey was the sole returner and currently plays third singles for Owen.
That may change. Throughout the season, the Warlassies play a series of intra-squad “challenge” matches between players that determine where they’ll be in the lineup come match day.
“It really depends on the challenge matches,” said Hey of her position in this year’s lineup. “We play one set, first to six [for challenge matches]. For instance, I was four and Summer (Thoma) was three. So we did a challenge match and I beat her and now I’m number 3. But she had beaten me before, so she was third,” said Hey.
Thoma is a junior who brings some veteran experience to the starting lineup.
“I think we have a lot of potential this year,” said Thoma. “I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Sophomore Anna Sobol plays in the top singles spot for the Warlassies. She is overcoming a knee injury that sidelined her last year and speaks with the enthusiasm of someone who clearly missed the game while away from it.
“Once I came off my injury – I was cleared around February – I was out five days a week at Cheshire. Over the summer, especially after school ended, I was able to do 5-6 days a week. Possibly two times a day,” she said.
Black Mountain’s Cheshire Racquet Club, where Sobol regularly practices, includes two indoor courts that gave her a valuable jump on her return to tennis during the winter months. She kept going from there.
“I played in multiple tournaments this summer," Sobol said. "Really right now it’s about catching up on my missed season and trying to get some more match play in that I might have missed in my past season, so I can play to my ability."
“Those are our three leaders of the team,” said fourth-year head coach, Chris Barcklow, in reference to the trio. “Our fortunes are riding with them. I thought it was going to be a rebuilding year, but we are off to a great start.”
Mattie Lehman, a freshman at Owen who will also play basketball and soccer, is already having an impact on the young season. “Mattie is brand new to the sport and is off to a great, great start,” said Barcklow. “She’s been playing #5 or #6 and is undefeated.”
Lehman is the younger sister of Wyatt Lehman, a senior at Owen and the top singles player on the boys’ team.
The Warlassies compete in the Western Highlands Conference, which only has four teams for girls’ tennis: Polk, Mountain Heritage, Avery, and Owen. Not all of its typical members feature the sport.
“It’s a very small conference,” said Barcklow. “So we have to get a lot of out-of-conference matches. We won’t start conference matches for another month.”
The head coach has an extensive tennis background, growing up in Charlotte and playing in high school at Charlotte Latin. He later went on to play in college at UNC-Greensboro. Barcklow followed that with a five-year stint as the president of the Asheville Tennis Association and a long tenure as a volunteer coach at North Buncombe High School.
During practice, the team shows clear cohesion as it moved seamlessly from a warm-up segment to a skills development segment and breaks off for individual drills. The head coach feels that his team’s structure sets the tone early when it walks out onto the court on match day.
“We always win the warm-up; we have structure. I can just say ‘Margaret, go ahead and get started’ and she’ll know exactly what to do to get rolling,” he said.
In 2018, that’s exactly what the Warlassies are doing.