Talented Trio Paces Vikings
Throughout recent history the Union Pines Viking tennis program has proved to be virtually as reliable as Tiger Woods' putter when facing a must make on the 18th green.
Head coach John Frye's tennis teams have long been the Union Pines Athletic program's pinnacle of excellence. For more than two decades now, the Vikings and Lady Vikings have been staples at the top of their conference -- year in and year out.
The 2008 Lady Vikings are certainly no exception to this rule. Led by Union Pines' terrific tennis trio of Lydia Stalls, Neena Wanko and Anna Maness, the team is ranked seventh in the state in the North Carolina High School Tennis Coaches' Association (NCHSTCA ) 3-A poll.
Monday the Lady Vikes traveled to Western Harnett and defeated the Eagles 8-1, to improve to 7-0 on the year in Cape Fear Valley conference competition.
Of its combined 64 individual singles and doubles matches this season, Union Pines is 59-5.
Stalls is the senior leader of the squad and has a career record of 110-14. Last year she was the CFV Most Valuable Player as well as a member of the doubles championship team.
For Stalls it is an honor to play for Union Pines tennis.
"It feels really good to carry on the torch every year," said Stalls. "It is a big deal, we have always been good and we rarely lose matches. That is because of Coach Frye ... He is out here all the time helping everybody realize their potential. He really cares and starts working with kids on tennis at the elementary level and sticks with them as they progress to the high school level."
Frye has been working with Stalls since she was in elementary school and feels she is a natural leader.
"Lydia (Frye) has been superlative all the way through," said Frye.
"She got a feel early on for what it means to win big matches. She is a consummate team player and her work ethic excels. When she won a championship last year it gave me just the most wonderful feeling, because as a kid that is one of the things you dream about doing as a player -- it puts such warmth in my heart for her to achieve that type success."
Stalls feels that the 2008 Vikes are off to a solid start.
"This year is going good so far," Stalls said, "after playing some tough early matches I am starting to get my groove back. When I got my 100th win this year it felt so awesome. When I was younger I remember seeing Hanna Priest achieve that landmark and I always wanted to follow in her footsteps because it is such a big deal."
Priest finished with 111 wins and five championships at Union Pines.
She went on to play tennis for four years at East Carolina University.
According to Frye, for a player to reach 100 wins is an astonishing achievement.
"That (100 career wins) is something at this school that all the kids who come in here are aware of," Frye said, "and they are all understand the status that goes along with players that reach that mark. For her to reach that plateau and join that select group of players at the top is very special."
Monday Stalls won her singles match 10-0 and teamed up with Wanko to win in doubles 8-1.
Wanko, a junior, is arguably the most talent player on the team. With a fierce forehand, a powerful high-kick serve, and a tremendous net game; she is a force on the hard court.
Along with winning her doubles match with Stalls on Monday, she too won in singles 10-0 and became the 51st Lady Vike to join the 50-win club. Wanko is now 50-2 in her career.
"Playing at Union Pines is great," she said. "It is good to be a part of this team. There is nobody I do not get along with and everybody gets after it and tries really hard."
As a freshman Wanko was the 2006 CFV singles champion and the regional runner up as she helped led the Vikings to a state runner-up finish.
Frye feels Wanko is simply a superb tennis player.
"She is one of those rare players," Frye said of Wanko, "that coaches who have been at a school as long as I have hope to get once or twice in a lifetime. I have been blessed with some extraordinary talent here and she is certainly in that group. In terms of skills and abilities, in terms of the spin and pace she puts on the ball, she belongs in the highest echelon of all the athletes that have played tennis at Union Pines."
Maness, a senior, won her singles match on Monday 10-2 and also prevailed 8-0 in her doubles match. She recently joined Union Pines' 50 wins list and has a career record of 60-8. Unlike Wanko and Stalls, Maness did not start playing serious tennis until her freshman year as a Viking.
Frye looks at Maness as a great leader.
"Anna (Maness) is smile whether she is winning or losing," Frye said, "and she loses so infrequently that she doesn't have to worry about that. She is always supportive and is one of the girls that keeps the team focused on the task at hand in practice and during matches.
"She is the epitome of a team player. Although she did not have the middle school background, she has really come on and is a consummate defensive player. She is a wall out there and if you are going to beat Anna Maness, you are really going to have to beat her, because she will not beat herself."
Maness -- along with many of her teammates -- has a special place in her heart for Coach Frye.
"He is just the most amazing person to work with," Maness said, "and he is quite the tennis player himself so he really knows what he is doing."
Frye has coached countless boys' and girls' tennis teams in his 38 years as a Union Pines coach and for him, there is always something about each one that stands out.
"I like this team for many reasons," said Frye, "but one of the things that means so much to a coach is that from day one these girls have been here. They have been here to work whatever the drill or skill calls for I have not had one girl looking to limit the amount of sweat on their back.
"They all have great work ethic and I just see the skill level jumping up and that heartens any coach."
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