At different locations on Thursday evening, a trio of athletes from Roanoke Rapids prepped for competition on the state level.
Along the shoulder of Fifth Street, the contingent of Riley Landen and Gabby Long finalized a tennis workout ahead of Friday’s appearance in Cary, where the 2A doubles championship was conducted.
Meanwhile, senior grappler Aaron Hunter worked with coach Don White on campus to wrap the last details of his trip to sleepy Trinity, where he will wrestle on Saturday in the state’s 182-pound bracket.
Undefeated through four matches this season, Landen and Long are the school’s first state qualifiers since 2013, when the Jackets marched two doubles teams through regionals.
And per head coach Michelle Pageau, the duo’s recent success has everything to do with ability and circumstance.
“They’ve peaked at the right time,” Pageau said of the pair, which battled Salisbury’s Abby Campion and Millie Wymbs to kick-start the 2A state tourney. “They’ve just come together, they’re hitting hard, they’re hitting their shots, and they really don’t give up — they played seven hours on Saturday (at regionals).”
A tireless twosome, if you will, ready for the pursuit of state glory.
A cerebral approach
For Hunter, Saturday’s gauntlet — which could result in as many as five matches — is as much about brains as it is brawn.
“He’s a thinker. He thinks out there,” White said of the senior, who enters the state drama with 14-1 record. “He feels out the opponent first, and when an opportunity presents itself, he’ll take it … he’s a hard worker.”
And one experienced to boot, which Hunter will likely call on throughout his first-round scrape with North Lincoln standout Jordon Dininny (17-7).
“You can be strong all you want to, and you can throw people around, but after that first minute (of the match), you’re tired of throwing people around,” Hunter said when asked about his primary takeaway from last year’s state championship appearance. “It’s all technique at that point.”
Hunter’s agenda on Saturday will start with an 8 a.m. weigh-in, with opening-round matches beginning 90 minutes later.