When Cape Fear Christian Academy girls tennis coach Page Jackson was making his remarks at a Senior Day ceremony for Ella John Dupree on Tuesday, he encouraged teammates to make the occasion special for her.
Younger sister Lily Kate Dupree complied.
CFCA met Oakwood in the NCISAA 1-A semifinals on the newly painted courts at Triton. The same teams met for the state championship last year at Faith Christian in Rocky Mount with Oakwood winning, 5-1, in a match that was closer than the final score would indicate.
CFCA opened the current season with a 5-4 win at Oakwood on August 18. Both teams had significant graduation losses.
In the rematch of the state final rematch on Tuesday, Ella John and Karson Hamilton earned three of the five points necessary to reach the 2023 state final at North Carolina Wesleyan on Saturday at 1 p.m. Ella John and Hamilton won at the Nos. 1 and 2 singles, respectively, before combining to take the top doubles.
Lily Kate stepped up to win a tiebreaker in the No. 4 singles. The team score was 3-3 after the individual matches. It was 4-4 with the CFCA team of Lily Kate and Savannah Autry trailing 3-5 in the No. 2 doubles.
There was more excitement in the area as the Hawks hosted Harnett Central for the varsity boys soccer tournament championship in the All American Conference nearby. Play stopped on the tennis courts during doubles for the national anthem at the soccer field.
With Jackson instructing her to poach, the rangy, left-handed Autry began winning points at the net in a comeback and the CFCA fans got into it with their support. Lily Kate and Autry were communicating on every shot. Autry sent a crosscourt volley beyond reach for the final point in an 8-6 doubles victory.
“What an amazing match,” Jackson said after CFCA squeaked out another 5-4 win over Oakwood. “Our strength was our play from Ella John Dupree and Karson Hamilton, who played really well in singles and doubles. Lily Kate Dupree pulling out a third set tiebreaker win in singles played a key role in our win.
“Lily Kate and Savannah made an unbelievable come from behind win to send us to the state championship. Ella and Karson are the backbone of the team. They are amazing players. Everyone gave 100 percent and the team stayed positive. Even when down, they never lost focus. Very happy for this team to make it back to the state championship match.”
CFCA (10-1) meets Ridgecroft (10-1) for the state title. The Rams topped the Eagles, 6-3, for CFCA’s only loss on September 18.
Ridgecroft won the No. 6 singles on a tiebreaker and took the Nos. 1 and 3 doubles, 8-6, in competitive matches in the previous meeting.
The semifinal victory was a moment to savor.
“I’m so very happy for Ella John on her senior night,” Jackson said. “She is so amazing and very special to CFCA and me. She’s been No. 1 all six years. For her to have another opportunity to play in another state championship is special. It was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen or been a part of. The crowd and atmosphere was incredible.”