MOORESVILLE – The best player on Christ the King Catholic’s boys tennis team isn’t a boy.
Gaby Hurt, a sophomore girl, plays No. 1 singles for the Crusaders. She plays it quite well, having defeated every opponent’s top male player this season.
“I think a lot of times when I call her as our No. 1 player, boys kind of get this smile like `oh good, I’m going to beat her,” Christ the King coach Lauren Bauer said. “And she looks deceivingly sweet with the little ribbon in her hair. Then she goes out and wins. She’s a classy player, has great sportsmanship and just takes care of business.”
Hurt plays year-round in U.S. Tennis Association tournaments. She’s accustomed to battling older, larger and stronger opponents during practice away from school.
Her coach, former professional John Sadri, makes his students routinely play each other, regardless of age or gender.
“It wasn’t as big a shock to me because I’ve always played against older boys,” said Hurt, who lives in Davidson.
Christ the King, a tiny second-year school, doesn’t have enough interest among female students to form a team yet. That allows Hurt and other girls to play on the boys team in the spring (the girls season is in the fall).
Three of Christ the King’s six starters are girls. Without the girls, there wouldn’t be a boys team in the fledgling school whose high school enrollment is about 60. Christ the King has ninth- and 10th-graders and is expected to add a freshman class of about 50 next fall.
Its’ matches are against teams loaded with juniors and seniors. But, there are no growing pains when Hurt grabs a racquet. She catches occasional snickers from boys on the other team when the lineups are announced.
“They see the No. 1 being me and I see them kind of laughing like “Oh, I’ve got this,” Hurt said. “I find it really fun. It gives me more of a challenge and makes me work harder.”
None of the boys is laughing when the match is finished. Hurt said one told her afterward: “Thanks for going easy on me.”
Hurt is a powerful hitter. She has a variety of serves. She’s consistent, knows strategy and can self-correct quickly. All the stuff that makes you a team’s No. 1 player.
At a recent tournament in Charleston, S.C., Hurt was wearing sandals and jeans when she playfully tried her serve to measure its speed. It was 97 mph.
Matt Crowell, Christ the King’s No. 2 singles player, plays No. 1 doubles with Hurt. He too sees the disbelieving looks.
“A lot of people misjudge our team because we have more girls than guys,” he said. “They snicker for about five minutes. Then they start playing.”
The Crusaders male players are realistic. They need their female teammates in order to play. And there’s zero concern about who plays No. 1.
“Gaby’s better than any boy out here,” Crowell said. “It’s not intimidating. It’s good. Gaby’s one of my personal friends, too. We play well together. She encourages me and I encourage her.”
Hurt’s work as a student matches her prowess on the court.
“She’s a stellar student,” said Bauer, who also is her English teacher. “I have her for journalism. She’s the yearbook editor. She’s a straight-A student with all honors classes. She’s in student government and is head of the social committee.”
Playing high school tennis is different than tournaments, Hurt said. Each of a team’s singles matches carries the same weight, so a victory at No. 1 means as much as No. 6.
Hurt, after dispatching her opponent, is quick to cheer on teammates on nearby courts.
“I love being able to represent the school doing something I love,” she said. “Working together with my teammates is fun.”
She’s not eligible for playoffs during the boys season, but will continue working to drum up interest among girls who might want to form a team.
Until then, she’ll likely continue piling up victories against boys.