Oakton’s girls tennis team endured a shakeup last year when five of its seniors graduated, including former Concorde Player of the Year Katie Clark. Fresh faces dot the lineup this season, but one thing remains the same heading into next week’s state tournament: The Lady Cougars are the undefeated champions of the 6A North Region.
Oakton moved to 14-0 on the 2014 season with a decisive 5-1 victory over Chantilly in Tuesday’s region championship. It was the second straight region title for a team that hasn’t lost a match against an area opponent in over two years.
“It’s just exciting that we have a group of girls that plays this well together and all get along,” Oakton coach Lauren Carpenter said. “I think that’s the bigger picture. They’re that competitive and they’re all like family. They’re all best friends; there’s no cliques and no pettiness.”
It helps that Oakton brought back the region’s top player this year. Lizzie Stewart remains unbeaten since transferring to Oakton from St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes in 2012, her latest victory a 6-0, 6-0 win over Chantilly’s Jeanine Acierto at the No. 1 slot Tuesday.
Clark’s departure forced Stewart to find a new doubles partner this year. Lindsey Le has stepped into that role as a sophomore, and so far the results have been flawless. The duo has yet to drop a match this year, their latest triumph a 6-0, 6-1 win over Chantilly to secure Oakton’s title defense.
“My confidence level is definitely up this year,” Le said. “As a freshman I used to play older girls and they would intimidate me, but this year I feel a lot more confident playing against older girls.”
Le and Stewart aren’t done quite yet. They’ve got a date with Yorktown’s Valerie Marshall and Zoe Dormuth in Wednesday’s regional doubles semifinals. The winner will face Langley or West Springfield in Thursday’s championship match.
Stewart reached that stage last year, but Clark’s foot injury forced sophomore Alekhya Nanduri to jump into the fray. Langley’s Melissa Parks and Sydney Goodson prevailed in that match, but Stewart and Clark exacted revenge against them in the state doubles final two weeks later.
Stewart, who also won the state singles title last year, doesn’t want to celebrate without the rest of her team again this year. Everyone in a red skirt is itching to put rings on their fingers, but to do it they know they’ll need quality outings up and down the lineup. Last year the Cougars struggled at the No. 3 through 6 slots, resulting in a narrow 5-4 loss to eventual champion Mills Godwin in the state semifinals.
“We just have to have our whole lineup come through,” Stewart said. “Last year we got the top singles and the top doubles. The other matches were all super close but just didn’t quite go our way. So we just need everyone to stay consistent.”
Oakton won’t need to worry about Godwin — which has appeared in each of the past 12 state championships — as the Eagles will be competing in the 5A tournament in the wake of this year’s VHSL reclassification. They’ll host 6A South runner-up James River in the semifinals on Monday afternoon. Chantilly, making its first state appearance since 2006, will travel to face Cox in the other semifinal.