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Edwards learns fun and competition

JACKSON – What started as just a fun game in the street has turned into a successful high school tennis career for Northeast Academy’s number one seed Betty Edwards.

The Lady Eagles top seed since her sophomore season, the rising senior got her start playing tennis on the street outside her home in Jackson.

“I started playing with Joanna (Boone) and Rich (Edwards),” said Edwards. “We used to draw a court in the street with chalk.”

Edwards wasn’t sold on the game when she first started volleying with her cousin and brother.

“I didn’t really like tennis at first,” she said. “I thought it was a girly sport and I was a tomboy back then.”

Fast forward a few years and Edwards is the unofficial, if not reluctant, leader of a team that boasts four seniors.

“I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve noticed it’s hard for underclassman to be leaders,” said Northeast Academy Head Coach Jake Campbell. “Last year I kept trying to push Betty forward, but she didn’t really want to do it.

“She has been our leader the last three years leading by example and encouraging others,” he added. “This year I’m going to push her out.”

Edwards claimed the top seed as a sophomore through hard work and heart.

“She loves the game,” said Campbell. “Her parents got her lessons with the Barton College coach and since then she’s been to camps and worked on her game. Betty has gotten better every year.”

Not only does she attend camps during the summer, but Edwards plays with a group of men, including Campbell, at Valley Pine Country Club as often as she can during the off-season.

“I started playing with them the summer before eighth grade,” explained Edwards. “Lyndal (Brown) talked me into it, but I was nervous about playing with them.”

“We like to see her there,” said John McKellar, one of the men whom Edwards often plays tennis with. “We hit the ball harder than most of the players she probably sees. She keeps the pace well, hits the ball well and hits the ball hard.”

When asked if playing with the group had helped Edwards improve her game, McKellar chuckled.

“I don’t know if it’s helped her, but it’s helped us improve,” he said. “She’s a fine young player.”

“They’ve been very supportive,” Edwards says of the Valley Pine group.

“They like me coming out there, but I don’t think they like me beating them,” said Edwards with a smile.

Edwards has also played in United States Tennis Association (USTA) tournaments in Elon, Snow Hill, Raleigh and Greenville. Locally she placed second in this year’s singles tournament sponsored by Hertford County PAWS.

“I like playing for fun, but I also like winning,” said Edwards when asked what drives her to play tennis throughout the year. I’d rather do something the best I can. I know I can do better, but I’m not going to get better just playing during the season.”

Her parents, Steve and Maryann, have helped make it possible for Edwards to play all year long and have been her biggest, albeit quietest, cheering section.

“They enjoy watching me play,” said Edwards. “They aren’t trying to hurry a set up just so they can go home. Dad will talk with me about a match and tell me what I should have done, which really helps.”

“Steve and I love it,” said Maryann. “It has been fun watching her play. Betty makes it entertaining.”

The hardest part of watching their daughter play is that tennis etiquette dictates fans stay quiet during the match.

“No one is allowed to talk during the match,” explained Maryann. “It’s hard to not yell when Betty hits a ball out or a good groundstroke.”

With four seniors on this year’s roster, both Edwards and Campbell have high expectations for this season.

“The four seniors (Edwards, LeAnn Barnes, Kelly Edwards and Kathryn Bryant) will play the top four positions and three others (junior Kelsey Futrell and freshmen Taylor Cocke and Lansdell Edwards) will rotate the five and six position,” explained Campbell. “We also have two good junior varsity players that could play varsity, but won’t push anyone out.

“We would like to be some of the top seeds at the state tournament and let some of the others sweat,” continued Campbell.

Since there is not a tennis conference all matches played during the season count towards a player’s seeding at the state tournament.

Northeast plays both public and private schools during the regular season and to be a top seed, according to Campbell, the Lady Eagles need to beat the private schools.

“In our area the private schools are better than the public. Last year we played the public schools early and got an idea we were better than we were and got polished off by some private schools,” said Campbell.

“This season we play Faith Christian Academy early on and we’ll be able to tell how our season will be,” he added. “I have seven girls and they can all do well.

“LeAnn is a good athlete, Kelly is the mentally toughest girl I’ve got and Katherine has outstanding net play. Taylor, Lansdell and Kelsey have already improved. “

While Edwards thinks the team will do better this season, on a personal level she wants to beat Roanoke Rapids’ top seed, whom Edwards lost to twice last season.

Claiming that victory might be the most memorable win Edwards gets during her high school career but right now that distinction belongs to a win she notched during her freshman year when she was undefeated.

“I was barely five feet tall and was playing a six foot tall girl,” recalled Edwards of her match at the state tournament. “This was the decision match to decide if we would be number two. She came out on the court all confident and I was scared to death.

“Her forehand was like Maria Sharapova and the only advice Mr. Campbell gave me was ‘Don’t hit it to her forehand,’” she said. “I had to lob (hit the ball in a high arc) the whole time. It seemed like three hours. It wasn’t pretty, but I won.”

Edwards is sure she wants to keep winning at tennis as she gets olde,r but hasn’t decided if her wins will come on the college court.

“I used to want to play in college, but I’m thinking school might be harder so I may not be able to do both,” she said. “But, if anyone wants to offer me a scholarship…”