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Lady Falcons claim final 3-A title

WINDSOR – They went out with one last hooray.

The Bertie High School tennis team defended their division title for the third consecutive year – and the last.

The Lady Falcons claimed the 3-A division of the Northeastern Coastal Conference by finishing ahead of Currituck County High School and Hertford County High School. While it was the third straight year for the Lady Falcons, it was also their last because Bertie High School will be dropping to 2-A for the 2009-2010 season.

“It was bitter-sweet,” said veteran Lady Falcons tennis coach Jackie Copeland. “We have enjoyed the success we’ve been fortunate enough to have over the past three seasons and we’ve enjoyed the competition in the 3-A division. What my young ladies accomplished I am very proud of. They did an outstanding job.”

After losing singles seeds one, three and five from a year ago, the Lady Falcons had to add new pieces to their puzzle to be able to stay in first place among the 3-A schools in the league.

Even the young ladies themselves weren’t sure how the season would work out.

“I expected for us to be weaker this year because it was kind of a rebuilding year,” said senior Courtney Dunlow. “After we started practicing, I felt more confident in us.”

Junior Jody Mizelle echoed those thoughts.

“At first I didn’t expect us to do all that well, but my team proved me wrong,” she said. “We had an awesome year that people didn’t think we would, myself included.”

Classmate Terri-Lynn Smith said she knew the team would win, but wasn’t sure how much.

“I knew as a team we were going to win games, but I also had my doubts about being the 3-A champs,” Smith said. “About midway through the season, I knew we could do it.”

Overall, the Lady Falcons finished fourth in the Northeastern Coastal 2-A/3-A Conference with a 6-6 record and 7-6 overall.

“Tennis has been improving for the past several years,” Copeland said. “We’ve gone from a place where we were all just learning the game to competing and now even winning the division title for three years in a row. We’re not quite to where we want to be, but we’re getting there.”

When the season was over, even the young ladies on the team were somewhat surprised by what they had accomplished.

“I feel like our team pulled together well,” senior Kaitlyn Dunlow said. “We all had to step up our level of play. Even though our practices were long and hard, we still came together to win the division.”

Chelsea Dunlow, also a senior, had similar thoughts.

“I’m very impressed with my team this year,” Dunlow said. “The younger girls stepped up to the plate and the older girls led by example. We had to work hard, but we took each match one at a time.”

The Lady Falcons repeated their team mantra over and over, but many of them had exceptional seasons as individuals.

Courtney Dunlow, who played at number one, two and three, finished the season with a 10-3 singles mark.

“After I started practicing, I felt more confident in myself with singles,” she said. “I won all of my matches except for three games.

“In doubles, with Jody Mizelle, it turned out really well,” she added. “We worked great together and talked each other through each set of the season.”

In doubles, Dunlow and Mizelle recorded an 11-3 mark playing as the top-seeded team.

“I thought doubles with Courtney was great,” Mizelle said. “In singles, I like the one-one-one competition. I think I had a pretty good year.”

In her singles’ matches, also played at number one, two and three, Mizelle recorded a 9-4 mark that was one of the best on the team.

“I was so pleased with the way Courtney and Jody worked together,” Copeland said. “They’re both athletic and intense and they worked together well as a team. I was also happy with the way each of them finished as individuals.”

Also having a standout year was Smith, who stepped up her game considerably, according to Copeland.

“Terri-Lynn Smith was our biggest surprise of the season,” Copeland said. “We knew she had the ability and she did such an exceptional job for us in her first year playing in singles. I’m proud of her.”

Smith won 11 of her 14 outings and advanced to regional play as a singles competitor.

“I thought I would win a few games, since it was only my first year actually playing,” Smith said. “I’m so excited about how my year turned out. In the regional playoff qualifier, I won against Hertford County and Bertie.

“I’m really proud of myself because I really worked hard at practice and even played on the weekends,” she added.

Another doubles team that did well was Chelsea Dunlow and Kaitlyn Dunlow. That team recorded a 6-8 mark for the season and also qualified for the regional playoffs.

“I expected Chelsea and Kaitlyn to have a good season and they did,” Copeland said. “They worked hard as a team and I’m proud to see them in the regionals during their senior year.”

Chelsea Dunlow said the doubles was her best event.

“I knew singles were not my best and, to be honest, it is not my favorite, but I did the best I could,” she said. “Doubles got off to a sort of shaky start too, but by the end of the season Kaitlyn and I were back on track.”

One newcomer who did well for the Lady Falcons was sophomore Sandi Todd.

“Sandi’s win-loss record may not have been great, but she gave us an excellent effort,” Copeland said. “She’s going to do well for us in the future.”

“I thought I would win a game here and there, and I did, but I wanted to do better,” she said.

After winning her first round matchup in the regional qualifier, Todd fell to the top seed in the division.

The Lady Falcons will lose three seniors from this squad and they all have all been a part of the three division titles.

Kaitlyn Dunlow said her senior year reminded her of how she started playing tennis as a freshman and kept practicing even though she wasn’t sure she would be good at it.

“I have loved playing tennis and it has made me a better athlete,” she said. “It has also made me realize that I have made memories and friends that will last a lifetime.”

Chelsea Dunlow had similar feelings.

“I have absolutely loved playing tennis at Bertie,” she said. “I’ll miss the girls and Coach Copeland very much. We have shed blood, sweat and tears together and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

“My memories that will be left behind at Bertie High School will always be treasured,” Courtney Dunlow said. “From tennis at the beginning of the year to softball at the end, we worked hard and played some awesome games together.”

The Lady Falcons spent their last year in the 3-A ranks by doing what they had come to hope for and expect – winning a division championship.