Lineup switch dooms Cyclones

The Porter-Gaud girls tennis team. Photo provided.

On the lineup sheet, the change might have appeared harmless to a casual observer. But in high school tennis, where ladder rules virtually dictate who plays who in the state playoffs, the change was huge.

The switch had “season” written all over it when Hilton Head Prep coach Job de Boer revealed it in this week’s SCISA Class AAA girls playoffs.

After taking advantage of the move to oust Ashley Hall from the playoffs with a 5-1 win in the semifinals, Hilton Head Prep (13-0-1) blitzed defending champion Porter-Gaud (11-2-1) by the same score in Saturday’s state championship match at Sumter’s Palmetto Tennis Center.

The lineup switch? Kelly Mengel, who joined the Hilton Head Prep team in September after moving from Pittsburgh, played only late in the season for the Dolphins after recovering from wrist surgery. Mengel was placed in the No. 2 slot for the state playoffs.

The fact that Mengel edged Porter-Gaud sophomore Grace Robards, 6-2, 7-5, at No. 2 wasn’t the whole story. The simple lineup change pushed the Dolphins’ old Nos. 2-5 players down to Nos. 3-6. That was the story of the match, and the entire season for SCISA Class AAA girls tennis.

Hilton Head Prep also won all other positions except No. 3 where standout Porter-Gaud eighth-grader Ann Martin Skelly posted a 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over former Hilton Head Prep No. 2 freshman Shannon O’Brien. Porter-Gaud’s Annie Hay, Lexi Steichen, Carlyle Williams and Madison McNeil won a total of 16 games in the Nos. 1 and 4-6 positions.

It was quite different this time from a year ago when de Boer opened the door of the Dolphins’ team bus as he left Palmetto Tennis Center and teased, “See you next year.” Hilton Head Prep had played only one senior that day in a 5-2 state championship loss to Porter-Gaud.

Saturday, the Region III champion Dolphins, who had gone 1-0-1 against the Cyclones in the regular season, didn’t play even one senior, just mostly freshmen. But among the Dolphins were four girls who train at the famed Smith-Stearns Academy at Sea Pines Resort where de Boer is a pro. Others train at the Van der Meer academy.

Among the Dolphins’ stars this time was freshman Tyler Childress, a 6-0, 6-1 winner at No. 5 over Williams. Childress joined the team during the season from North Myrtle Beach.

Porter-Gaud should return all of its starters except Hay in 2013 as the Cyclones seek their fifth straight appearance in the state championship match. “We should be solid next year,” coach Brian Burke proclaimed.

“We didn’t have an off day today . . . our girls played well. Hilton Head Prep just played better. All of their starters go to academies and put more time into tennis.”

SINGLES: Allie Burak (HHP) def. Annie Hay, 6-3, 6-2; Kelly Mengel (HHP) def. Grace Robards, 6-2, 7-5; Ann Martin Skelly (PG) def. Shannon O’Brien, 6-3, 7-6; Ellie Czura (HHP) def. Lexi Steichen, 6-3, 6-4; Tyler Childress (HHP) def. Carlyle Williams, 6-0, 6-1; Katie Rankin (HHP) def. Madison McNeil, 6-1, 6-2.

Reach James Beck at