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Lady Falcons claim division title

WINDSOR – It’s been a long time coming.

How long?

So long no one is even sure.

Bertie High School’s women’s tennis team has secured what likely is their first-ever championship. The senior-laden squad claimed the championship of the 3-A division of the Northeastern Coastal Conference.

“This is the first time a girl’s tennis team from Bertie High School has made the state playoffs in 20 years or more,” head coach Jackie Copeland said. “In fact, it could be the first girl’s tennis championship of any kind.”

Bertie High School Athletic Director Marvin Rankins is comfortable that this is indeed the first girl’s tennis title earned at the school.

“To my knowledge, this is the first girl’s tennis title earned at Bertie High School,” Rankins said. “I’m extremely proud of the accomplishments of this team. They have represented us well.”

The Lady Falcons secured the 3-A division title by knocking off Currituck County High School and Hertford County High School.

From top seed Holly Cowand through the lineup, Copeland has been extremely pleased with the way her team has responded this season.

“With the girls being out for the summer, I had to get them back on track academically and athletically,” Copeland said. “We had to set certain rules to ensure the team would stick together.”

Another conversation Copeland had early was with her five seniors n Megan Cowan, Carla Cooper, Brittany Hoggard, Caroline Hoggard and Jessica Jones.

“I told them they needed to enjoy every day at practice and every match,” Copeland said. “I told them then needed to enjoy each other even if they had problems between them because when this year is over, they’ll miss playing together.

“I also reminded them of the goal we set together when they were freshmen n to win the 3-A division,” she said.

The Lady Falcons got a boost by sweeping Currituck High School in their two meetings this season. In the first matchup, Bertie rolled 8-1 before taking a convincing 6-3 win in match two.

Jones, Brittany Hoggard and sophomore Courtney Dunlow swept their singles’ series with the Knights while Dunlow and Hoggard and Jones and Carla Cooper swept their doubles’ series.

Another huge victory for the Falcons came Monday when they rallied from a 4-2 deficit in singles to upset Northeastern 5-4.

Cowand and Cowan each won singles matches before the team rallied for the win.

“I told them we had to win all three and that I believed we could do it,” Copeland said. “I told them they’d not only have to use their head and their skills, but play with heart and they responded.”

The Lady Falcons were led by top seed Holly Cowand, followed in successive order by Megan Cowan, Caroline Hoggard, Jessica Jones, Brittany Hoggard and Courtney Dunlow.

The top seeded doubles’ team was Cowand and Cowan followed by Jones and Cooper and Brittany Hoggard and Dunlow.

“It’s amazing to me that a group of girls that have never picked up a tennis racket in our lives have made it this far,” Megan Cowan said. “Our coach encouraged us and gave us the confidence to be where we are today, the 3-A division champions.

“I will forever cherish the memories we have made and they will never be forgotten,” she added. “I certainly am proud to be part of this team. I want to thank our coach and all the people that have come out to support us this year.”

The thankfulness of being part of a record-setting team for the Falcons was a theme for all five seniors.

“I started out paying tennis basically as a joke because I had never picked up a tennis racket,” Carolina Hoggard admitted. “Coach tried to teach us and she succeeded and we have come this far. We practiced really hard every day to be the division champs. It was a lot of stress and hard work to manage games, practice and school, but we all did it as team.

“I want to thank everyone n parents and our wonderful coach Jackie Copeland,” she continued. “We have made it through thick and thin together.”

For her part, Brittany Hoggard was delighted to be part of such a successful team.

“I’m proud to be on the 3-A division champion tennis team at Bertie High School because all the hard work we really didn’t like, but our coach Jackie Copeland and my sister Jessica Hoggard pushed us to do paid off,” she said. “She also told all the seniors to make this a good last year and I’ve done it.

“I’ve practiced hard, played hard and had fun doing it,” she continued. “I think all the seniors can say we’ve had the best tennis year ever.”

Jessica Jones has spent two years playing tennis at Bertie after transferring to the school and she’s pleased with the results.

“I’m so proud of my tennis team because we have worked really hard every day and that is why we have had so much success,” she said. “We had confidence in ourselves and the support of our coach since the first day of practice.

“I’m so excited to be part of this 3-A division championship team,” she added. “I’ve had many unsuccessful tennis seasons, but instead of getting frustrated, I continued to work and it has paid off.”

While Jones has been a member of the squad for two seasons, senior Carla Cooper made her debut with the Lady Falcons squad this year.

“I’m happy, excited and proud to be a part of this team of great girls and a coach who worked hard with us,” Cooper said. “After three year of playing volleyball, I decided to give tennis a shot to see if I could handle the challenge. It has been a wonderful experience and I truly believe that all the hard work really paid off.

“We are 3-A division champions and for girls who never thought about playing tennis, I believe we did an awesome job,” she closed.

Copeland said her six years as head tennis coach at Bertie have been eventful. In that time, she has led individuals to the regionals three times and now garnered a rare team playoff berth.

“When I was asked to take tennis, I could hardly find enough to make a team,” she said. “I liked the challenge of finding players and building the program to where, over the last few years, we’ve had at least 12 on the team.

“It feels good as a coach to be in a position to represent Bertie High School’s tennis team this way,” she added.

Another key part of the team has been senior Michael Harmon, who has served as a manager and unofficial assistant coach for the team.

“Being part of a tennis team such as this makes me proud,” Harmon said. “This team is a team that comes together when needed due to the great support of coach Jackie Copeland.

“Being part of this team with its accomplishments will leave a lasting memory of Bertie High School,” he added. “Also, with our accomplishments, with being the 3-A division champions, we will leave a piece of us at Bertie High School for us to be remember by.”

The Lady Falcons are 5-7 overall and inside the Northeastern Coastal Conference heading into their final regular-season match with Hertford County today (Thursday).