Long after the Northwestern Region singles and doubles tennis semifinals had ended yesterday, Stafford Coach Cathy Laub was still jumping for joy.
Stafford junior Krista Eck had won a berth in the Virginia AAA state singles tournament a few hours earlier with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Gar-Field senior Kendra James and then teamed with freshman Laura Johnson to win the doubles semifinal over Woodbridge seniors Mariko Esannason and Emily Heberer, 6-4, 6-0.
For a moment, Eck looked more like the coach than the teenager as Laub bounced in front of her.
"Coach, you're scaring me," said Eck, laughing. But soon Eck and Johnson joined in their coach's expression of glee.
"Last year was pretty disappointing for me, so this is just incredible," said Eck, who played at No. 3 singles last season while wearing a sling on her left arm to protect a separated shoulder.
Eck was in the fifth grade when she first met Johnson in their Woodlawn neighborhood, and the two have been friends and training partners ever since. Aside from a few local tournaments, the two rarely got a chance to compete together until this fall.
"Laura is like my sister," Eck said. "We really get along on and off the court. We can criticize each other without someone being offended, and win or lose we always support each other. It's been really exciting to get a chance to play with her this year in such a competitive setting."
The two doubles teams met Thursday in the Northwestern Region team semifinals, which Woodbridge won, 6-3. Woodbridge will host the team regional final Monday and the singles and doubles finals Tuesday.
On Thursday, Eck and Johnson defeated their counterparts, 7-5, 6-4. Yesterday, the Stafford duo often took the pace off the ball, hitting many deep top-spin lobs.
"They played a really patient game, and it was frustrating us," Heberer said.
Said Esannason: If they don't hit the ball so high every time, and hit it with some pace, I have more of a chance to poach points at the net. I didn't really get to do that. In the second set, they just turned it up a notch, and we stayed where we were."
Johnson said the strategy was effective, if not always fun.
"You want to win each point as quickly as possible, but today we couldn't do that," Johnson said. "We just had to not worry about anything but the point and wait for them to make mistakes."
Eck used a similar strategy in defeating James, the Cardinal District champion.
Eck "played a smart game," James said. "I was expecting something different, and I didn't change my game to adjust. She just kept slicing, chipping and pushing the ball up, and I never got a chance to really hit."
Quantico Golf Wins DAC
The Quantico golf team won its second straight Delaney Athletic Conference title Wednesday with junior Tom LeFebvre leading the way with a par-35 on the nine-hole course at the Golf Academy at Broad Run.
Quantico finished with a three-man total 124, four shots better than Highland. Randolph-Macon shot 132, and Seton finished fourth at 140.
The Devils' depth was crucial because junior John Swords, the team's No. 3 golfer, shot a career-best 39 to finish third overall, while senior Jeff Morin, the team's No. 2, had a rough outing and shot 50.
"The course was in beautiful condition, and I think that helped us," LeFebvre said.
"We are used to more adverse conditions, and we were able to sink some longer putts. We were a little worried because Jeff didn't have his best day, but John really came through for us."
LeFebvre hit a 20-foot putt for birdie on the third hole, putting him 2 under par at the time. Massanutten's Robert Henkle, who played in LeFebvre's group, finished second overall with a 37.
"That hole really boosted my confidence and put me on my way," LeFebvre said. "From then on, I was just playing my game. I didn't even realize how close [Henkle] was to me, which was probably good, because I stayed relaxed."
A story in Wednesday's Extra should have said the Hylton girls tennis team won district titles in 1993-95.