By RYAN HERMAN
Kiera Hughey and Saylor Whitesides had never played together in a match that counted.
Having nothing to lose, they made every second on the court count.
The freshmen doubles duo became the first from Lincolnton High to qualify for the regionals in eight years, and did so by upsetting a doubles team from Bandys in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference tournament last week.
It was the first time the two freshmen had played together, they said, and they jelled immediately.
Hughey and Whitesides beat a team from Bunker Hill to advance in the conference tournament, then fell to Maiden to fall into the losers’ bracket.
They then knocked off a team from West Caldwell before beating a team from Bandys to give the Wolves a girls regional qualifier for the first time since 2005.
The 2A Western Regionals begin at 2 p.m. today at Gardner-Webb University.
“I knew we had a chance,” Whitesides said. “This is awesome.”
“We hadn’t been in eight years, so there was really nothing to lose,” Hughey added.
If qualifying for the regionals after playing doubles together in a match for the first time wasn’t enough, both basically picked up a tennis racket for the first time this year.
That’s exactly the case for Whitesides, whose older sister, Ashtyn, is on the team.
Before this season the younger Whitesides had never played tennis competitively, she said, and said the only reason she played was to play alongside her sister, who’s a senior, for a year.
“This was the first year I had ever played on a team,” Whitesides said.
When the season began in August it wasn’t the first time Hughey had picked up a racket, but it was the first time playing for a team.
She said she decided to give tennis another try, and began taking lessons.
“I didn’t really like it so I stopped and started playing soccer,” Hughey said. “I was actually getting pretty good, so I decided to come out for the team.”
The regionals are a win-or-go-home format, so Hughey and Whitesides know the odds are stacked against them.
To further complicate matters, they won’t find out who they play until right before the match.
The duo isn’t as much focused on qualifying for next week’s state tournament as they are putting up a good fight.
“There’s going to be a lot of really good teams there, a lot of older people. I just want to keep up with them,” Hughey said. “Even if we lose are first match, if we keep up I’ll still feel good about how we played.”
“We could play the best or the worst,” added said.
Fifth-year coach Dustin Weaver, a 2005 graduate of Lincolnton, said he had a senior duo he thought would make it, but instead the freshmen won out.
That means, regardless of what happens this weekend in the regionals, the Wolves girls tennis program has a bright future.
“Not much was expected of them, but they came into the conference tournament and did well. As freshmen it’s good because you’ve still got three more years to work with them,” Weaver said.
“They want to do well, but I think they’re happy with just getting there. Hopefully they’ve started a tradition with the girls of being in the regionals.”
Other regional qualifiers
East Lincoln: Brielle Mattner and Molli Dallin, doubles
North Lincoln: Serah Haley, singles
West Lincoln: Skylar Greer and Kylee Leonhardt, doubles