Allie Burak vividly remembers practically every detail surrounding last season's final match against Porter-Gaud.
The Hilton Head Preparatory School sophomore was on the court for No. 1 doubles with her Dolphins needing a win to stay alive in the state championship. Instead, she watched as Mi'Kola Cooper and Annie Hay teamed up for a 6-0, 6-3 victory to help the Cyclones claim the SCISAA title.
"We were obviously under a lot of pressure to win," Burak says now. "I think that got to me and my partner. We didn't play very well."
Fast forward a year and the two schools are once again on a collision course for the title, as the rivals reside on opposite ends of the bracket with a date in the finals seemingly on the horizon. It was Prep that punched the first ticket to the dance, as the Dolphins cruised past Cardinal Newman 5-1 Wednesday to clinch a spot in the semis at the Palmetto Tennis Center in Sumter.
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"All (Burak's) been talking about this year is how we need to win this year," newcomer Kelly Mengel said. "We can't have a disappointment. We have the talent and ability to win it all."
That much was evident against the outmanned Cardinals. The only set Cardinal Newman came close to winning was in No. 1 singles, where Burak retired at 3-3 in the second set due to a nagging foot injury. The sophomore tore ligments in the foot earlier this season.
The rest of the Dolphins, however, had little trouble dispatching the opposition. Mengel and fellow first-year player Taylor Childress led the way with 6-1, 6-1 and 6-0, 6-1 victories, respectively. Mengel arrived at Prep this year after moving from Pittsburgh while Childress transferred in a few weeks ago from North Myrtle Beach.
"They've all been very welcoming," Childress said. "I love the team, they're all serious and want to win. I feel like that's why we're winning. We have a good attitude."
Attitude may be part of it, but sheer skill seems to be the biggest factor. Prep (11-0-1) is playing with a trio of freshman in its lineup and is without the services of a single senior after No. 2 singles standout Kelly Dodd went down with an elbow injury.
But what the Dolphins lack in experience they make up for in talent. Four of coach Job de Boer's girls train at Smith Stearns Tennis Academy while Childress and No. 4 singles freshman Ellie Czura practice at Van Der Meer.
"We have a very deep, strong team," de Boer said. "We're very good from No. 1 all the way to No. 7."
It's that talent that has the group so confident about their upcoming schedule. Up next is a likely matchup against Ashley Hall, which claimed three consecutive titles before Porter-Gaud got in the books a year ago. Prep's semifinal match is set to for 2:30 p.m. Friday.
The opponent doesn't seem to matter much to this group of Dolphins, though. They've got bigger plans in store than just a berth in the semis.
"I know this year we're going to win it pretty handily if we keep up what we're doing," Burak said.
Hilton Head Prep 5, Cardinal Newman 1
Singles: 1. Brittney Desmond (CN) d. Allie Burak 2-6, 3-3 (ret); 2. Kelly Mengel (HHP) d. Alex Hill 6-1, 6-1; 3. Shannon O'Brien (HHP) d. Ali Black 6-2, 6-0; 4. Ellie Czura (HHP) d. Kelsey Leondard 6-0, 6-0; 5. Tyler Childress (HHP) d. Maddie Snoddy 6-0, 6-1; No. 6. Katie Rankin (HHP) d. Leighton Pugh 6-2, 6-0.