MORGANTOWN — Lily McKnight struggles to watch her little sister, Emme, play tennis because it can stress her out a bit too much.
“I really get so nervous watching her play, it’s almost like she’s my kid,” Lily said, laughing.
Roles are reversed from previous years at the high school state tennis tournament, which begins May 10, in Charleston.
The last few years, Lily competed for the Morgantown High girls’ team while Emme watched from the stands. Now, with Lily graduated and Emme a freshman with the Mohigans, Lily is making the trip south — even calling off work — to watch her little sister play.
Emme has been the Mohigans’ No. 1 singles player all season, and she is also part of the No. 1 doubles team, with fellow freshman Cat Wassick.
Starting out her high school career as MHS’s No. 1 is no surprise to Lily. Emme seemed to always be a step ahead of the rest.
“Growing up, she would always try to out-compete my brother (Adam) and I,” Lily said. “I would say by the time she was in middle school, she could easily hit with me, and I’m four years older. When we were younger, she was in the advanced group at tennis when she was probably 8 or 9, and I didn’t make it to that group until right before middle school. I distinctly remember her getting a solid one-handed backhand volley before me.”
Emme catching up to Lily is impressive, since Lily has a state title, earned in 2015 as the Mohigans’ No. 4 singles champion.
Lily doesn’t want to think that Emme could beat her one-on-one — a feeling most older siblings have toward their younger counterparts — but when they hit together on the weekends, Emme seems to have the upper hand.
“We both know each other’s weaknesses very well, so maybe I could get the score close, but I think in the end, she would get me,” Lily said. “The match would for sure have a lot of laughing but also a lot of seriousness. Neither of us likes to back down either, and the bragging rights would be so substantial that both of us would go as hard as possible.”
But Lily’s support throughout Emme’s career has helped Emme become the player she is now Even though Lily moved on from MHS tennis, she still comes to all of the matches.
“She has always supported me my whole life, especially in tennis,” Emme said. “When I was little, she would always go and hit with me and push me to always get one more ball.”
Lily was the Mohigans’ No. 2 singles player the last two years, behind No. 1 Lexie Rosiello. The two were also MHS’s No. 1 doubles pairing.
Rosiello also graduated, leaving a void at the top of the team.
Feeling that pressure was tough at first for Emme when she stepped in, but her support system helped ease her into her role.
“It was intimidating, having never played high school tennis before, but watching my sister and brother play, I was very excited,” she said. “But I knew that I could fill Lexie’s spot with the support of my teammates. I was relieved to be playing No. 1 doubles with my best friend, Cat, and knowing that I was going to get to play with her made me way less nervous for the year.”
Emme will take on Parkersburg’s Bairavi Sundaram in the first round of the state tournament today, at Charleston Catholic’s tennis complex.
“I’m nervous since it’s my first time going to states and actually playing, but I’m also super happy and confident,” Emme said. “I just really like playing tennis, and to be able to go to states with all my team members is a really cool experience.”
For the rest of singles competition, MHS No. 2 Wassick received a first-round bye and will take on the winner of a match between Greenbrier East’s Erin Persinger and Washington’s Holly Goben. No. 3 Vinitha Joseph will face Washington’s Nina Tan, while No. 4 Mackenzie Sorton will take on Parkersburg’s Zoe Pingley.
In doubles, No. 1 Mc-Knight and Wassick received a bye and will face the winner of a match between Woodrow Wilson’s Kate Sweeney and Maria Salon and Musselman’s Kiersten Haynes and Molly Hull. No. 2 Sorton and Bella Mascari will take on Parkersburg South’s Katie Athey and Taya Davis. No. 3 Joseph and Ashalia Aggarwal will face Parkersburg’s Pingley and Kelsie Sanders.
On the boys’ side, University is well represented, bringing its entire team to the state tournament. In singles play, No. 1 Drew Hawthorne will battle Ripley’s Caleb Bailey in the first round today. No. 2 Kyle Hawthorne will have a bye and face the winner of a match between Woodrow Wilson’s Gage Blankenship and Martinsburg’s Gray Silver IV. No. 3 Tommy McClellan will take on Parkersburg’s Jacob Boone, while No. 4 Andre Barcinas will face Parkersburg’s Nick McBride.
In doubles, the No. 1 Hawthorne brothers will have a bye and take on the winner of a match between Woodrow Wilson’s Blankenship and Hamzo Jafary and Martinsburg’s Silver IV and John Partington. No. 2 Jackson Rutledge and Jameson Walters will face Parkersburg’s Neema Saadevandi and Andrew Gnegy. No. 3 Deiland Slaughter and Levi Watson will face Parkersburg’s Boone and Ethan Weaver.
For MHS, No. 1 singles Ben Rosiello will take on Hurricane’s Austin Noel and No. 2 Ataes Aggarwal will take on Hurricane’s Chafe Kave.
In doubles, No. 1 Rosiello and Aggarwal will face Cabell Midland’s Corey Ross and Alex Cottrell.
The finals are Saturday.