By CHUCK McGILL
DAILY MAIL SPORTS EDITOR
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As Hurricane’s Kayla McKnight staved off a late charge from George Washington’s Kirsten White on Court 4 inside the YMCA on Thursday afternoon, the Redskins’ Lindsay Goff was warming up before her quarterfinals triumph over Sarah Moses on the next court.
It wasn’t the first time the top two players from Hurricane and GW have met on the tennis court. It likely won’t be the last.
As Huntington, led by three-time defending state champion Cassie Mercer, charges toward a fourth consecutive team championship during the three-day event, all one has to do is look at the teams in pursuit to get a glimpse of the future.
If the door opens to a new team champ next season, Hurricane, which has nary a senior, and GW, which will only lose No. 4 singles player Jacqueline Teed to graduation, are logical choices as the next up.
“Next year will be more wide-open and really it can go in any direction,” GW coach Chris Luckett said Thursday. “All the points in the tournament, every single one of them, will be important.”
McKnight, a junior who advanced to last year’s state semifinals at No. 1 singles, repeated the feat by holding off White on the YMCA’s indoor courts. Rainy weather pushed all of Class AAA’s 56 matches inside Thursday.
McKnight, who won 8-6, led 4-1 and exchanged games with White until White held serve to make it 7-5 and broke serve to make it 7-6 and put the pressure on McKnight.
“I was up 7-4 and, well, my mental game … you’ve got to keep your mental game together,” McKnight said. “She got back into it at 7-6 and was on serve so I had to step up my mental game and take that last game.”
McKnight, who split two previous matches against White, hit a perfect lob that White reached for and hit into the net to end the match.
Later, Goff stumbled after leading 4-1 to put away GW’s No. 2 seed, Moses, 8-4.
McKnight and Goff will compete in Friday’s semifinals at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively.
Hurricane has four positions qualified for the state tournament, so opportunities to win points are sparse compared to GW, which has all seven positions in the Class AAA draw. The Redskins capitalized on the chance to eliminate a pair of Patriots.
“Losing No. 1 and No. 2, those are tough matches,” Luckett said. “Kayla and Lindsay are really good players.”
George Washington will get a chance to return the favor Friday. McKnight and Goff defeated Martinsburg at No. 1 doubles to advance to the quarterfinals, where White and Moses wait as the next opponent. GW received a first-round bye at No. 1 doubles.
McKnight’s next singles opponent is Morgantown’s top player, Abby Rosiello, who has a history with Hurricane. McKnight defeated Rosiello, 9-7, in the No. 2 singles quarterfinals in 2012. Rosiello outlasted Goff, now a sophomore, in last season’s No. 2 singles championship, 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (7-3).
“We’ve both gotten much better,” McKnight said of her 2012 meeting with Rosiello.
Mercer will face University’s Ally Rees in the other semifinal at No. 1 singles. McKnight beat Rees in last year’s first round, 8-5.
The Redskins don’t have a senior, but they’re not short on experience. Or, now, confidence.
“I think (Thursday) will really give them the confidence they need to give it their best shot,” Hurricane coach Glenna Ragle said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Last season, when the Redskins qualified all seven positions in the girls state field, Hurricane finished tied for second with Morgantown with nine points and was awarded runner-up by virtue of a tiebreaker. Huntington easily won its third straight title with 16 points. Ragle said that success fueled the team in the offseason, so they’re back ... and they’ll be back again.
“I think they really enjoyed making it to the last day; they’re really driven by that,” Ragle said. “It’s one and done now, so it makes it more intense.
“This group, they’re young and still learning,” she added, “but it looks great for the future.”