Senior Elise Wright and sophomore Ava Manley were two of the first athletes to compete in an individual state competition since Roberson switched back to the NCHSAA 3A division this school year.
Both athletes advanced to the state competition as individuals, but neither believes that they were alone in the journey.
“My teammates were my encouragement. I wanted to do as well as I could for them, and I really enjoy getting to be with the team. I tried to encourage my team to do well. It doesn’t make sense [for me] to say ‘do as best as you can’ and then not do the best as I can,” Wright said.
This year, the Roberson girls’ tennis team did not qualify for the state tournament as a team, but cross country did. In each sport, both team and individual champions are awarded, giving athletes multiple options when it comes to competing.
Girls’ cross country coach Tom Ferguson ultimately believes it is more fun to win as a team than as an individual.
“It’s a team sport; there are five runners that score. Last year we did not have the same team success even with Elise as that strong lead runner. If your score as the winner of the race is not pulling that team forward, it doesn’t have the same impact,” Ferguson said.
Manley, who was ranked 3rd in the state going into the NCHSAA playoffs, was Roberson’s No. 2 player until junior Caroline Byrd, who was ranked at the No. 1 spot, was unable to compete due to an illness.
“She had to step up when Caroline got her illness. She didn’t lose another match once she played [at that spot]. She is a leader by example; she went out there without talking a lot but her play led for her,” tennis coach Buzz Cook said .
According to Cook, the move to 3A did not affect the tennis schedule but did increase the importance of each match throughout the season.
“We still played the same people, but it’s just now we have to beat them to get into playoffs instead of in the past where we only had to beat McDowell. The whole season is a little more stressful. All the matches count, and it’s going to be that way from now on,” Cook said.
Wright is the only athlete from the Western Mountain Athletic Conference (WMAC) to win a state championship this school year. Former cross country coach David Culp, who retired in 2015, assisted Ferguson in coaching Wright this season. Her win makes her the 20th state champion runner Culp has coached.
According to Ferguson, Wright’s athletic ability pushed the entire team to perform better and made him a better coach as well.
“My favorite part of the season was when we won the regional meet, and it was Elise winning that race and the team stepping up and having amazing performances that made that happen,” Ferguson said. “Everybody on that team progressed and got better at every single race. When you get to athletes that are at that ability level, the demands are higher and you need to actually know what you are talking about.”
Based on their stats, both Wright and Manley have improved more in this year’s post-season than last year. Wright cut more than a minute off of her time at the 2016 NCHSAA Class 4A State Meet, where she finished 16th. Manley lost to the No. 1 seed in the first round of regionals last year but this year she held that position.
“Definitely not how I thought my season would end. It was a big difference from last year, and I have been very grateful for the outcome,” Manley said.
Wright ran the meet in 18.02, a previous personal record time and 11 seconds faster than the second place finisher.
Wright had three goals for the year with the first being to win state, the second to qualify for the Footlocker Nationals, a national cross country meet in which the top ten from the southern region qualify, and the third to have a 5k time less than 18 minutes. Wright accomplished her goals of winning state and running a 5k in less than 18 minutes and will be continuing her running career for Wake Forest University next year.
“It’s going to be really awesome to get to compete and to run every day with the group of girls there. I am really looking forward to that. It was really hard to select Wake Forest because I had several schools that I was looking at, but Wake was the right mix of academics and athletics,” Wright said.