CARY — Mount Airy sophomore Carrie Marion won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A Singles State Championship at Saturday’s Tournament.
Marion is the first person in the history of the Granite Bears’ girls tennis program to win both a singles and doubles championship, having won the NCHSAA 1A Doubles Championship with partner Ella Brant in 2021.
Carrie also joins Jordan Jackson as the only Mount Airy girls to win a singles championship. Jackson, a 2013 Mount Airy grad, captured the 1A Singles Championship her junior year in 2011.
“It means a whole lot and is very humbling,” Marion said regarding her accomplishment and putting her name in the Granite Bear history book. “I am excited to be part of the rich history of Mount Airy Tennis and I hope that it motivates more young girls to come out and play tennis.”
Instead of opting to compete for a second consecutive doubles title, the sophomore said she decided to go the singles route this year to challenge herself.
“I didn’t know going into it what the outcome was going to be,” Marion said. “But, I knew it was going to be extremely hard, and at the end of it I feel I grew as a player.”
Marion has a 25-2 singles record this season following her championship victory. She went 3-0 in the Northwest 1A Conference Tournament, 4-0 in the 1A West Regional Tournament, 3-0 in the 1A State Tournament and is currently 15-2 in dual team matches. Mount Airy is currently in the quarterfinals of the 1A Dual Team State Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.
“I’m extremely proud of and elated for Carrie,” said Mount Airy coach Luke Graham. “It’s very rewarding for me to see her work ethic, dedication and sacrifice pay off with a championship. I’m equally proud of the way she carries herself and represents our team and school on the court: respectful and courteous to her opposition.”
Marion, the 1A West Regional Champion, opened the state tournament with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Bear Grass Charter’s Kristin Ingalls. Highland Tech’s Madison Darrell became the first 1A opponent to take a set from Carrie in the semifinal match, winning the first 7-6 (3), but Marion fired back by winning the next two sets 6-3, 6-4.
Graham said Marion showed extremely impressive composure, poise and resilience during both the semifinal and final matches. Carrie trailed four games to two and love-30 in the make-or-break third set of the semifinal. Instead of folding under the pressure, she came back to win the game and then the next three to advance to the championship.
The State Championship match was a rematch of the 1A West Title match a week prior, with Marion taking on Bishop McGuinness sophomore Adelaide Jernigan. Jernigan started the season 19-0 before falling 6-3, 6-1 to Marion in the regional finals.
Jernigan led 5-4 in the first set and even came within a point of winning the set twice. Marion managed to force a tiebreak in the first set, win it and then maintained a lead in the second set to close out the match 7-6 (1), 6-3.
“It was almost unbelievable and honestly still feels like it didn’t happen,” Marion said. “It was also very relieving that it was over, and that all the time and effort I put into it paid off.”
“There was a lot of emotion in the moment shared between myself, Carrie, her teammates and her family,” Graham said. “It’s nice to witness for someone I have so much respect and admiration for.”
Carrie had multiple people she wanted to thank for helping her reach this point:
“My team. They support me endlessly, challenge me and they are the best group of friends I could ever ask for.
“Coach Luke, for being the best and most encouraging coach ever. He pushes me to be the best player I can be, and he always knows what to say to motivate me during the matches.
“My parents, for not being tough on me about the game but instead they are supportive and encouraging. My sister Audrey is always excited for me and is behind me 100% of the time.”
Carrie wasn’t the only Granite Bear competing for a championship over the weekend. Brant was looking to win back-to-back doubles championships, this time with partner Kancie Tate.
Brant, a junior, was competing in her third state tournament: all three in doubles. Tate, a senior, returned to the state tournament for a second consecutive year, having reached the 1A Singles Semifinals in 2021.
“Along with Carrie’s championship, I’d also like to express how proud I was of the run our doubles team made to the state semifinals,” Graham said. “Kancie and Ella were paired together last minute prior to the conference tourney with very little preparation or match play together.
“The chemistry they built essentially on the fly that led them to both a conference and regional championship was exciting to watch, and I think it speaks volumes to the quality players and competitors they are.”
Brant/Tate defeated two state qualifying pairs on their way to winning the NW1A and 1A West Regional Championships. The Bear pair defeated East Wilkes’ Ava Darnell and Savannah Sparks in both the conference and regional championship matches, and also beat Bishop McGuinness’ Isabella Ross and Nina Holton in the regional semifinals.
Brant/Tate found themselves in a rematch with Ross/Holton after the Granite Bear duo defeated Chatham Central’s Jaylee Williams and Rachel Albright 7-5, 6-0 in the opening round of the state tournament.
Brant/Tate won the first set over Ross/Holton 6-2, but the Villians’ duo won the next two sets to advance to the state championship match. Chatham Central’s Olivia Brooks and Ellie Phillips defeated Ross/Holton 7-6 (1), 6-3 in the 1A Doubles Championship.
“Ella and Kancie have both been in the top half of our lineup for three years straight at this point and have been tremendously instrumental to the success of our team,” Graham said. “I know how disappointed they were with the semifinal loss to Bishop and I was gutted for them. But, credit to Bishop’s girls – they played a much cleaner match in the state semi as opposed to when we faced them in the regional semi.”
The season isn’t over yet for Graham and the Granite Bears. Mount Airy (18-1), the No. 1-ranked team in the 1A West, is set to host No. 4 Highland Tech (12-3) in the semifinals of the 1A Dual Team State Tournament on Nov. 1. The match was originally scheduled for Oct. 31, but was pushed back due to weather.
The winner of Mount Airy/Highland Tech will battle the winner of No. 2 Bishop McGuiness (16-1) and No. 3 Gray Stone Day (16-2) in the 1A West Regional Championship.