State tennis notebook: Hillcrest Drive facility gets thumbs up from participants
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The star of day one at the state high school tennis tournament was Charleston Catholic, but not because the Irish blew through all eight of their matches.
It was the school's Athletic Facility atop Hillcrest Drive, which replaced the Ivor Boiarsky Tennis Center at Coonskin Park. This year the rotation called for Class AA-A matches to head up Greenbrier Street, but those schools could take the first right turn past Interstate 64/77.
"It's a lot nicer, yeah, I was glad when we came out here," said Independence coach Derek Jones. "Last year I went out to Coonskin to watch the end of the AAAs, and it kind of looked rough then. I stopped out there this year on the way to here, and ... yeah. These are nice. I like the facility out here."
The Coonskin venue wasn't exactly a crowd pleaser to begin with. Parking was painful and supporters would have to walk an often-muddy trail to get from one court to the next, as watching more than one or two courts was nearly impossible.
Fans going up Hillcrest are directed to the Charleston Family YMCA, where they board a Charleston Parks and Recreation van to shuttle over to the Catholic complex. Five side-by-side courts await, with seating available in a 360-degree bowl of sorts - bleachers on one side, space for chairs on an end and a hillside wrapping around the rest of the area.
"I haven't heard one complaint," said Catholic coach David Sadd. "It's been really easy. Being part of the Charleston Catholic community or not, really it's not going to influence my assessment of the way the tournament has gone. It's been very fluid; I think the city's done a fabulous job of coordinating everything."
The Interscholastic, a publication from the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, still lists Coonskin as the second site, along with the Schoenbaum Tennis Courts in Kanawha City. That was correct at the time of printing - city officials had not yet discussed the idea with the SSAC.
Ray Londeree, the SSAC's assistant executive director, had high praise for the city's work on short notice.
"The city of Charleston, [assistant mayor] Rod Blackstone had spoken with Charleston Catholic and asked about working out a deal or process that we can use their facility, because the Coonskin facility has not been kept up the last few years the way it needs to be. [There are] several issues with the trees, courts being slick and so forth.
"He dealt with Charleston Catholic. They agreed to work through the process and agreed that they would give it a try for this year."
Londeree also reported excellent feedback.
"We went up a little while ago, just to check everything," Londeree said. "Everybody seemed very pleased with it. There are five courts and the seating is just beautiful - you can sit on the bank and get a great view of everything. At other facilities, you may be able to see one or two courts at a time. There, you can see all five of them.
"The parking issues we were concerned about. We've issued parking passes, Charleston city police has helped direct traffic, and it's worked out fine. There were actually no complaints as of yet today. The shuttles seemed to be running smoothly and everybody seemed to be OK with it."
One coach expressed a tinge of regret, though.
"I think the courts are better here. They're safer," said Bluefield coach Cindy Stonestreet. "I loved Coonskin. It's a beautiful park."
Sporting red-framed sunglasses to match her uniform, Courtney Mobley carried the honor of the diminished Poca team.
She did so capably, reaching the semifinals at the No. 2 position. She struggled to a 9-7 victory over Madonna's Ali Welch, then put away Bluefield's Alex Lewis 8-1. She will play Olivia Haught of Ritchie County today.
The Dots were caught in the middle of a seeding controversy in the Class AA-A Region 3 tournament at Parkersburg. It was determined that Charleston Catholic's girls were not eligible for seeding and would be placed in the draw at random.
That ruling may have cost Poca a runner-up trophy. No. 1 singles player Molly Ballard, undefeated in the spring, had to play Catholic's Claire Hamilton in the quarterfinal, with the winner going to the state tournament and the loser going home. Ballard lost by a very respectable 8-5, winning more games than Hamilton may give up this week.
The No. 1 doubles team of Ballard and Mobley suffered a similar fate, running into Hamilton and Danielle Sadd early and losing 8-3.
"She should be here, she should be playing," Mobley said of Ballard. "And she's beat all of these other girls 8-0, 8-1. And my singles match, I played second singles [against] Charleston Catholic, and I only lost 8-6. I mean, who else could get that many points on them?
"You've just got to keep going, you've got to show all these people that you're here to win."
Cabell Midland's No. 1 girls player, Gabrielle Beam, had to default. She was taking her AP exams and could not get to Kanawha City on time for the morning's first batch of matches.
Huntington's Campbell Neighborgall had the same situation but was able to hurry down I-64 to get to the site. It helped that he was the Highlanders' No. 2 player and had a first-round bye.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.