Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 12, 2013

Bluefield High girls gain redemption, and state tennis title

By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — After waiting a year for another championship chance, a pair of tennis players from Bluefield High School returned home Saturday with a plaque declaring them state champs.

Claire Bailey and Molly Lovern, both juniors at Bluefield, beat Christina Centofani and Ellie Grubb of Charleston Catholic 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 6-4 for the No. 2 doubles title in the state Class AA-A tennis tournament in Charleston.

The same teams met last May and Bailey and Lovern had to settle for the runner-up award.

“All I could think about was redemption, and it feels really great,” said Lovern.

Bluefield assistant tennis coach Jimmy Bailey said, “Our kids just played phenomenally. Claire and Molly as a team covered the court. Molly’s serve was on, and Claire’s ground strokes were exciting to watch.”

Claire Bailey, the daughter of Jimmy Bailey and BHS girls head coach Cathy Bailey, said about the championship, “It feels great. Now it feels that not only does the football and basketball team get that honor, but my partner and I. And it’s for the school. It feels really great.”

The Bluefield boys team of Paul Hoffmann and Tyler Myers also reached the Class AA-A championship match at No. 3 doubles, but wound up state runners-up after a two-set loss to Ben Canfield and Noah Cable of Charleston Catholic.

Jimmy Bailey said, “Our team didn’t do well, but our team was there to cheer us on, and we’re happy to bring home a state championship to Bluefield and a runner-up for the boys.”

He said about the efforts of Hoffmann and Myers, “We were so proud of them. They hung in there and represented Bluefield High School well.”

He said, “The competitiveness at this level is intoxicating. Charleston Catholic is the measuring stick for accomplishment and achievement.

“As (football) coach Fred Simon says, if you’re going to beat the best, you’ve got to play the best.”

“Our attitude was, we’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose, let’s play as hard as we can, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Claire Bailey said she and Lovern drew confidence from “all of the hard work that we did throughout the season.”

“All we wanted to do was to get done what we didn’t get done last year,” she said.

She said about Centofani and Grubb, “They were the toughest team, the best team we’ve ever beaten — the best team we played all this season, and last. It kind of made us a little nervous, but once we got going, we knew we could do it.”

Lovern said, “To be honest, they’re a great team,. They’re the best team we’ve played ever, probably, since we’ve been playing high school tennis.”

“We came out on fire,” she said. “We came out really ready to play.”

She said that one of their coaches, Matthew Sarver, switched her to the forehand position of the doubles team and Claire Bailey played backhand. That short-circuited their opponents’ game plan.

Lovern said, “They had a good figure on us and a lot of plans to target us, I think. It really caught them off guard and we got out to a fast start.”

“We know their style. What we had to do basically was to figure out how to play our style and make them come to us.”

Jimmy Bailey said, “We came out and won the first set not easily but very competently.” He reported his team exchanged fist bumps after that set.

Lovern said,

Jimmy Bailey said, “The second set was up and then down, and it went to the tiebreaker. We thought we would pull out the win at 5-4 in the tiebreaker, but Charleston Catholic came back.

“We were leading the majority of the second set, but they got tight, and the girls from Charleston Catholic stayed in control and got it to 6-6 ... and held on.”

“We had match point opportunities twice but didn’t convert.”

Claire Bailey said, “It was really nerve-wracking ... but I knew if my partner and I held in there that we could win, and we did.”

Lovern said the second set was “devastating” to her.

“You’d think we’d have extra confidence ... but to me, honest, it seemed even more pressure on us. Once you get a lead, it’s really hard to be playing to win, instead of playing not to lose. ... I was terrified of losing.”

“I felt like throughout the game I was the strongest server on the court,” she said.

“In the second set, we were up 5-4 and needed one more game to win the match. It was my turn to serve. I was terrified, I choked pretty bad. Because of that we went into a tiebreak.”

With that behind them, the Bluefield girls went out and prevailed in the final set.

Claire Bailey said, “We came back because we knew if we didn’t get our heads in the game, we would be coming home with the same plaque that we did last year, and that’s exactly what we didn’t want.”

Jimmy Bailey said, “We were down 2-1 in the final set but came back and broke serve and just played phenomenal. I couldn’t be more proud of the girls.”

Lovern said that Bluefield was up 5-3 in that final set and it was turn to serve.

“My partner was really, really supportive,” she said. “As I was preparing to serve, I said, ‘This is my time to redeem myself,’ and it worked. We got that game, and that was it.”

Jimmy Bailey said that after the final point, “Cathy did rush out onto the court and the court official told her she had to leave which was kind of tough.”

Eventually, though, Claire and Cathy Bailey shared what Jimmy Bailey called “that mother-daughter kind of thing with tears on both sides — tears of joy.”

Lovern said, “It meant a lot, to have the whole team there, and everybody’s parents and the coaches there for us.

“There were some scary moments in the match. Once you’ve lost that second set, you’re back to ground zero.”

She said, “This was one of the most mentally and physically tiring experiences of my life. When I was down, what put it back into me was to see Jimmy and Cathy (Bailey) and both of our parents and my teammates, and being able to tell they believe in us, too.

“We couldn’t have done it without all of them.”

Claire Bailey said, “We hopefully made them proud.”

Lovern said the championship plaque will go up on the wall at Bluefield High.

“Now I can get rid of the runner-up trophy,” she said. “I can’t wait. That’s all I could think about.”

Claire Bailey said that holding the championship trophy “was so surreal.   I was so happy and proud, not only for mom and dad but for my partner and our other coach Matthew Sarver — because I feel I made them proud.”

Lovern said, “I feel very accomplished, and feel we’ve fulfilled and exceeded our expectations. But we’ve still got some work to do.

“Monday I’ll be back in the gym, working to get stronger and faster. And my partner and I will be back out there working on our game.

“We’ve got more work to do. We’ll make another appearance at the states next year. We’re definitely not done yet. And that goes for the team.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com