Class AA/A tennis: Chirico lifts Chapmanville girls to first state championship; Williamstown boys claim third title in four years

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Natalie Chirico wasn’t about to hide the nerves from Chapmanville girls tennis coach Chris Kidd.

Early into a decisive match against Williamstown’s Gabi Holl, Chirico admitted as much Saturday inside the Charleston Tennis Club.

“She came to me on the first changeover and said, ‘I’m so nervous,’” Kidd said. ”I said, ‘this is what you work for and this is the position you work to be in and want to be in. This is a moment that you’ll remember forever. Absorb it and take it in — you’re never going to have this many people watching you play tennis again.”

Chirico did more than absorb it. She thrived in it, closing strong for an 8-4 victory against Holl that made all the difference in Chapmanville’s 4-3 win over the Yellowjackets, allowing the Tigers to claim the Class AA/A state championship in thrilling fashion.

“She kept her cool,” Kidd said. “Last year, she lost the final match in the quarterfinals to Charleston Catholic and she was really beating herself up over it. It’s kind of poetic that she was the one that closed it out today.”

Earlier in the day, Williamstown’s boys team topped Winfield 4-1 in the final for the Yellowjackets’ third state championship in four years.

The result was spearheaded by three wins in doubles matches that left the Generals needing to sweep singles play to produce their desired result.

“The key to our success was absolutely our aggressiveness in our doubles,” Williamstown coach Diana Leo said. “Starting out with the three doubles wins pushes everybody to that next level and gets everybody knowing that they can get there.” 

As for the Tigers, who garnered their first state championship, they overcame a 2-1 deficit after doubles play by claiming three singles victories. Courtney Curnutte closed strong to erase a late deficit in a 9-7 win over Claire Strobl in No. 1 singles, and Emma Bryant topped Akhia Miller 8-5 in No. 2 action — the penultimate match that gave Chirico a chance to win it for her team.

“When I first started, no way I ever thought any of this would ever happen,” said Kidd, a 15-year head coach. “I had kids that didn’t know how to hold rackets. Didn’t know how to keep score and some had never played until high school. We started a middle school program and I coach that, too. I have these kids for five, six and seven years and you work with them and build with them.”

For Williamstown, Ashtyn McIntyre topped Madison Baker 8-3 in No. 3 singles, and the Yellowjackets got victories from McIntyre and Holl as well as Athenn Stewart and Lauren Deem in doubles play.

Curnutte and Chirico got by Strobl and Miller 8-4 in the No. 1 doubles match.

“In the coalfields, a championship is not supposed to happen. These kids are starting at 12 years old instead of some at 5 and 6 years old, but because they work their tails off, they gave themselves an opportunity,” Kidd said. “We had six girls and a couple that hadn’t played a high school match step in this year and really work with these upperclassmen that have been in these spots. 

“I would’ve never thought it was possible, but it happened because they cared enough about each other, cared enough about what we’re doing, and this is the proudest moment I can remember having as a coach. It’s because of them. They make it possible and they earned this.”

To reach the final, Chapmanville and Williamstown both won twice Thursday. The Tigers topped Shady Spring 4-0 and Logan 4-1, while the Yellowjackets defeated Weir 4-0 and three-time defending state champion Charleston Catholic, 4-1.

In the boys final, there was no going the distance thanks to the strength of the Yellowjackets’ doubles play.

The Williamstown boys tennis team won its third state championship in four years. Photo by Greg Carey

Austin Bosgraf and Tyler Fenton teamed for an 8-4 win over William Sinclair and Connor Waybright in the No. 1 match, while Brady Woodard and Brandon Gray got past Andrew Sinclair and Mitchell Proper by the same score in No. 2 play.

Gavin Hill and Connor Erb cruised to an 8-0 win against Dylan Winarta and Landon Chandler to make it 3-for-3 in doubles play for WHS.

“I was on the court for all three doubles matches and they did everything we told them all season,” Yellowjackets’ assistant coach Amy Strobl said. “They don’t always do it in every match, but they knew where to be on the court, how to setup their partner and how to support each other. It all came together today.”

Two of the four singles matches were then completed before the Yellowjackets secured their fourth point to finish off the result. Waybright defeated Woodard 8-0 in a No. 2 match, while Gray secured the championship with an 8-1 win over Proper in No. 4 play.

“Every one of our kids on this team can fill a slot,” Williamstown assistant coach Dave Leo said. “Not one of them can be positioned in one specific spot. They can fill any spot on this team in doubles or singles and we’ve done that all season.”

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