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History in the making: Franklin Academy doubles team sets a new school standard with state title

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WAKE FOREST — Franklin Academy’s Anisah Sison and Abby Armistead are the first girls tennis players in school history to win a state championship after the pair of sophomores defeated Bishop McGuinness’ Lydia Cortes and Michelle Petrangeli to attain the 1A doubles state title at Cary Tennis Park on Saturday.

Sison and Armistead beat the Bishop McGuinness duo 7-5, 7-6 (8-6) to become the first tennis players to not just make it past the 1A east regionals, but also win a championship in general. No one in the history of Franklin Academy has made it that far in the season.

“We were just trying to stay positive the whole match,” Armistead said. “We came back from our sets down 2-0 and 3-0. Our positive attitude and reassurance in each other pulled us through and win those crucial points that got us the victory.”

“We were tested in our mental game,” Sison said. “We lost three straight games in the second set. I got really confident because we won the first set and that affected us in the second set. We pushed through together to win that second set.”

Franklin Academy’s championship run started with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Pine Lake Preparatory in the quarterfinals last Friday. Later on that same day, the Patriots took down Sarah Mann and Tara Martin of East Surry 6-3, 6-4 to make it to the championship round. After a day of rest, Sison and Armistead finished their postseason journey with the biggest win in the history of the school’s tennis program.

“Being the first ones to win a state title is a speechless moment and it’s hard to make me speechless,” Armistead said. “When we won our match, I started tearing up. We did it. It was a rough match, too. Anisah’s arm and back started getting sore and I just told her we had to push through. All that adversity throughout the match made it more special. It makes me proud of us.”

“It feels really good to be the first one to do it,” Sison added. “I was happy and relieved that the championship match was over. We get to keep that trophy and look at it for the rest of our lives.”

Both Sison and Armistead have been playing the sport of tennis since middle school. Sison has been playing longer than Armistead and got the feel for the game thanks to encouragement from her parents.

“I started playing around 10 years old,” Sison said. “I love the competitiveness and the fun of all of it. I like playing with my friends.”

As for Armistead, she used the sport of tennis as a way to make social connections after a change from cheerleading.

“I started playing the summer before sixth grade,” Armistead said. “I was originally a cheerleader, but I broke a bunch of bones and my parents told me that I need to pick another sport. It came down to volleyball or tennis and I chose tennis because it was more fun and more action out on the court. A lot of my friends were playing it and it allowed me to hang out with them more often.”

Through the sport of tennis, the two players have developed a strong friendship over the years. Their chemistry off the court carries over to their play on the court. It has paid off with a doubles state championship during their sophomore season.

“I met Anisah in seventh-grade math class,” Armistead said. “She told me that she plays tennis and we connected right away. When your doubles partner is your best friend, it adds more to the win. She was very shy from the beginning. Once I got her to open up to me, it became a lot more fun playing with her. Nobody can take your championship away from you, but winning it with your best friend is really special.”

“I’m less shy when I’m around Abby,” Sison said. “It allows me to communicate with her more on and off the court. If I make a mistake, I’m not as mad because she’s not going to judge me.”

Sison has been Franklin Academy’s No. 1 player since last year as a freshman. During her first season on the team, she went 12-8 overall in both singles and doubles play. This year, she finished with 18 total wins, including seven at doubles play.

“I wasn’t as comfortable at the net before, but Coach (Gregg) Duffy helped me with that,” Sison said. “Abby and I give signals to each other to tell each other where the ball should be.”

As for Armistead, she has played at both the No. 1 spot and No. 2 spot during her first two years at Franklin Academy. During her freshman year, Armistead went 18-7 overall between both singles and doubles play. This season, she went 15-4 overall, including six wins in doubles play.

“Anisah and I were thrown together last year as a doubles team,” Armistead said. “Coach Duffy helped us with certain shots to set up and put the point away. When we’re up at the net, he told us that we need to focus on the player closer to the net.”

The dynamic between the two players makes them the perfect doubles team. Armistead is more social and plays strong at the net. Sison is more reserved, but stays consistent with her returns and serves.

“I am definitely more comfortable at the net than Anisah is,” Armistead said. “She is more consistent at the base line. She’s been playing tennis longer than I have, so she’s more consistent with her strokes. I just like hitting the ball down hard at the net. She does well with her serves. Our best dynamic is when I’m at the front and she’s hanging back. We’re also best friends, so that helps with our chemistry on the court as well.”

“Abby is more assertive than I am,” Sison said. “When I’m feeling down, she toughens me up so I can play at 100 percent.”

Armistead even has an unorthodox way of motivating her doubles teammate when they start to lose a game.

“Anisah gets down on herself pretty easily,” Armistead said. “Sometimes I’ll do something random to her, like stick my finger in her ear to snap her out of it. I always try to do something to get her to stop thinking about her mistakes and get her mind back in the game.”

Sison and Armistead aren’t the only highlights of the Franklin Academy team. The Patriots defeated their eastern region rival Raleigh Charter 5-1 at home Monday in the third round of the 1A state playoffs. That gives Franklin Academy a chance to compete for the east regional title. The Patriots are undefeated so far this year at 16-0.

“What made this year more special was that we finally beat Raleigh Charter,” Armistead said. “We beat them to make it to the semifinals. Every year, we have new freshmen coming in and it brings new personality to the team. It makes it more fun.”

Now that Sison and Armistead have the doubles state championship out of the way, they can focus on their team and help the Patriots soar to new heights. As sophomores, they still have plenty left to give to the Franklin Academy tennis program.

“There’s always room to grow,” Armistead said. “Even though we have a pretty good dynamic in doubles, we can definitely work more on it together. We just have to improve our game, because we want to keep the state title with us.”

“I can work more on my net game and be more aggressive,” Sison said. “Hopefully I’ll keep improving during the offseason.”