Morris, CR girls aim for elusive state tennis crown

The members of the Caesar Rodney High girls’ tennis squad, which won its 10th straight Henlopen Conference Tournament team title on Saturday, are, left to right: Coach Zach Taylor, Piper Casey, Caroline Pangle, Natasha Sijan, Hannah Morris, Micaela Thorogood, Madison Cole, Megan Jones, Selma Cemerlic, Katherine Tamesis, Halle Parker, Clare Mangubat, Chloe Mangubat, Ilza Arefyeva and coach Stacey Mikulak. (Submitted photo)

The members of the Caesar Rodney High girls’ tennis squad, which won its 10th straight Henlopen Conference Tournament team title on Saturday, are, left to right: Coach Zach Taylor, Piper Casey, Caroline Pangle, Natasha Sijan, Hannah Morris, Micaela Thorogood, Madison Cole, Megan Jones, Selma Cemerlic, Katherine Tamesis, Halle Parker, Clare Mangubat, Chloe Mangubat, Ilza Arefyeva and coach Stacey Mikulak. (Submitted photo)

CAMDEN — Hannah Morris knows all about coming close to a state title.

In each of her three previous seasons, the Caesar Rodney High tennis player has lost in the state finals.

Rather than be discouraged, though, Morris tries to use it as motivation.

“Every time, it just kind of makes me more excited to win and work harder and try to actually win it this time,” said the senior first-singles player.

Hannah Morris and her Riders teammates say their motivation all spring is to be playing their best in time for the state tournament. They haven’t lost a regular-season match since 2009, capturing their 10th straight Henlopen Conference Tournament title on Saturday. (Delaware State News file photo)

Hannah Morris and her Riders teammates say their motivation all spring is to be playing their best in time for the state tournament. They haven’t lost a regular-season match since 2009, capturing their 10th straight Henlopen Conference Tournament title on Saturday. (Delaware State News file photo)

Morris’ teammates know how she feels.

Since winning a share of the DIAA girls’ team state crown in 2011, the Riders have had to settle for second place three times in the last four years.

Needless to say, Morris and CR would like to find a way to finish on top in the state tournament, which gets started on Saturday with first and second-round matches at various sites in Kent and New Castle County.

At the start of the season, coach Zach Taylor messaged the players from the ‘11 squad, asking them what they would say to this year’s players to motivate them to win a state championship.

“What I got back from them was really good,” said Taylor. “So I think that there is that connection between the past teams that we had and the success we had with them and this group wanting to continue that.

“A lot them talked about the upstate-downstate thing, how the downstate teams don’t really get that much respect so you have to go up there and earn it. And (they talked about) just the feeling of winning and knowing you accomplished that and there’s going to be a banner in the gym. People are always going to remember that team.”

Sophomore Natasha Sijan is the defending state champion at third singles.

“We’re hoping this is our year, big time,” she said. “I think just because of the fact that it’s been so long … I mean, we’ve gotten second, but it’s just one step closer.”

Tower Hill is almost always the team to beat in the girls’ tournament. The Hillers have won or shared the team state crown each of the last six years and 13 times in the last 18 seasons.

The Riders say their motivation all spring is to be playing their best in time for the state tournament. They haven’t lost a regular-season match since 2009, capturing their 10th straight Henlopen Conference Tournament title on Saturday.

CR also swept all five of the separate conference championships again, too.

“Every day we come out here and try to work our hardest to get there,” said Morris, the only senior in the starting lineup. “As a senior, losing three years in a row, it’s big for me to push the younger girls. We have a pretty young team.

“Obviously they play tennis but they don’t really know what it feels like to lose in the state finals three years in a row.”

The biggest difference for CR this spring is that Morris beat out junior Halle Parker for the first-singles spot.

Parker had been the Riders’ top singles player the past two years. And it wasn’t until the eighth team match of the season that the two players switched places.

Morris won two out of three challenge matches from Parker, who reached the state semifinals at first singles a year ago.

“It’s a big change but Hannah earned it,” said Taylor. “I think Hannah’s accepted the challenge of being No. 1. She knows that she’s going to get the best player from every team.”

“I went out there with no nerves,” said Morris. “I just went out and played and had fun. It felt good to do that.”

In large part, what the Riders do in the state tournament will be the proof of how hard they’ve worked the last few months.

Most of the season, their teammates are their biggest challenge.

“This week is kind of like grind time for all of us,” said Sijan.

“We’re the best competition that we get, every day,” said Morris. “Being that it’s my senior year, this is going to be the last I’ll play tennis. And my brother (Jared), he won two years in a row, so it’s like I want to get my own (state title), too.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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