Panther Creek had state champions in doubles last year, and there are two encouraging details that come with that feat.
For one, Jordan Strickland and Sammi Smith were just freshmen. The Catamounts will have them for another three seasons.
Second, neither is Panther Creek’s top singles player – that title goes to senior Megan Smith.
The Catamounts (19-2, 16-0 last year) are reigning conference champions after ending a five-year reign by Green Hope, which included snapping the Falcons’ 82-conference match streak.
Now Panther Creek is poised for another strong season.
Strickland and Sammi Smith were undefeated in doubles and Megan Smith, who won the conference singles title as a sophomore, was a state qualifier in singles last year.
Sophomores Orla LaBiche, a regional singles qualifier, and Katie Ryan give Panther Creek five of its starting six back from last year. Senior Marjorie Primm, who saw action late in the year, gives the Catamounts six players with experience playing in big matches.
Winning the conference title came with a trade-off, as it meant having to play local powerhouse Broughton a round earlier than Green Hope had to.
Green Hope (20-4, 14-2) made it all the way to the 4A East final, matching its best playoff finish in school history.
The Falcons lose No. 1 seed Audrey Channell, a Navy recruit, but return a strong lineup with regional qualifier sophomore Karena Zhang, juniors Brantley Belk and Jurasia Horvat and seniors Priyanka Srinivas and Caroline Sigmon.
Belk and Horvat teamed up to finish runner-up in last year’s conference doubles.
Cary (12-5, 12-4) was third in the conference and narrowly missed a wild-card spot in the playoffs. The Imps have two of the best singles players in the conference in seniors Jamie Rogers and Hannah Jabusch and return one-half of a regional-qualifying doubles team (senior Paulina Powierza).
Rogers was a state 4A semifinalist in singles and conference champion last year.
Apex (10-6, 10-6) finished fourth and returns senior Andi Johnson.
Middle Creek went from going 0-16 in conference play in 2008 to 9-9 overall last year (8-8 in conference play).
Holly Springs (5-12, 4-12) returns seniors Kristen Flanagan and Bailey Edwards.
Athens Drive (4-13, 3-13) returns every player from a year ago including junior No. 1 seed Lakshmi Sridhar.
Sophomore Katie Braxton is the top returning player for Fuquay-Varina (0-17, 0-16).
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps