CHAPEL HILL — firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s like she never left.
Maybe, it’s even better.
With Lindsey Linker back as head coach after a six-month sabbatical, East Chapel Hill’s tennis team has picked up where it left off last year and even improved a bit.
The Wildcats ignored Thursday’s chilly winds and beat Jordan 9-0 for the second time this season, improving to 8-3 overall, 4-0 in Piedmont Athletics Conference matches.
“We didn’t care if it was cold,” Linker said. “We were going to warm up the courts some.”
East was fired up to beat Jordan at Wildcat Stadium of for no other reason than to help wash away the bitter taste of losing twice to Jordan last year, the second loss coming in a tie-breaker match that gave Jordan its first-ever PAC-6 championship. Before that, East had never lost a conference title in spring tennis.
“That has been a burning motivation for this team,” Linker said. “The returning players have been reminding everybody how important it is not to lose sight of that conference championship.”
With no seniors on this spring’s team, Linker relied heavily on her returning juniors and sophomores to help hold the team together while she was away — a necessary absence from the East campus so she could qualify for her pension.
“I had to tell them, ’Guys, I can’t be here for six months. It’s your team. You have to provide the leadership.’ And they did,” Linker said. “Max Smith is a junior and really took the leadership role by the horns while I was gone.” Linker said.
Linker officially retired from teaching last spring, but wanted to remain as a varsity coach, so she turned the fall program over to Ann Booterbaugh, who guided the girls’ team to a 16-3 finish and another PAC-6 championship.
“It was tough staying away,” said Linker, who spent the time as a teaching pro in the mountains. “I followed the girls’ progress all season; I would call Brittany (Hill, the team’s captain,) every so often. I knew Ann Booterbaugh did a great job. And was grateful for her doing that.”
Throughout her time away, Linker realized her desire to coach was undiminished.
“I realized that the passion is still there,” she said. “I miss the kids and I love the competition. I love seeing the kids improve and seeing them grow into men and the players they become.”
Linker still felt a bit “apprehensive” when she physically returned to the team, but that vanished almost immediately.
The team’s three losses in its first 10 matches might mislead some observers. Linker always schedules the toughest opponents she can find for her team. All three of those losses – to Raleigh Broughton, Cardinal Gibbons and Wakefield – came against ranked teams.
“Bring ’em on,” Linker said. “The more tough matches we play, the better we’re going to be. And I believe these guys will continue to improve all season.”
Conversely, East Chapel Hill defeated defending state champion R.J. Reynolds 6-3 during a three-match swing through Wilmington.
“I’ve been so pleased with how these guys have come together – not just as players but as a team,” Linker said. “This one of the best groups I’ve ever had to work with.”
East has three juniors among its top four singles players: Max Smith at No. 1; Drew Clary at No. 3 when able to work past a shoulder injury; and Josh George at No. 4. Sophomore Jack Devonport is at No. 2 singles.
Three other players have been rotating two other singles spots – junior Robert Bond, sophomore Connor Lutz and freshman Thomas Wang.
“This is a really, really deep team,” Linker said. “They are so close. They have bonded so fast, it’s awesome.”