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Newcomers could push New Hanover to top

Marta Rio Peris, a foreign exchange student, is battling for one of the top three spots for New Hanover High School. (Photo by Alan Cradick)

New Hanover's Campbell Cooper solidified her place among the area's top high school tennis players last fall with a run to the state 4A singles tournament. Her junior season ended in Raleigh with a loss to the eventual state runner-up.

When the Wildcats took to their home court Friday afternoon for the opening match of the Port City Invitational, Cooper was preparing to play No. 2 singles by warming up with a player who may well bump her down to the third slot, at some point, this season.

With the arrival of freshman Taylor Walicki and Spanish foreign exchange student Marta Rios Peris, New Hanover added the most talent of any area team. Senior Lucy Watkins, last season's No. 2 player, drops down to fourth in the lineup, giving the Wildcats a newfound depth and hopes for a Mideastern Conference title.

"We make each other better," said Cooper, a two-time All-Area selection. "We're playing each other constantly, and it's just going back-and-forth. It makes it fun."

Fourth-year coach Michelle Cooper, Campbell's mother, plans to let the competition at the top dictate her lineup as the season goes forward. During the preseason, she called former boys' coach Dave Henry for advice on managing such a balanced group.

For the season-opening match, Walicki, who plays local junior tournaments on the USTA circuit, claimed the No. 1 spot ahead of Cooper. Rios Peris, who arrived in the area on Aug. 9 and will spend the school year living with the Coopers, made her debut at No. 3.

"They're all three such team players that I don't think they mind taking a back seat to the other one," Michelle Cooper said. "I'd like to say there's a lot of internal [rivalry], but it's not like that at all. I think whoever's having the better week is the one who's winning right now."

Michelle Cooper said Walicki's strength comes from consistency and mental fortitude, while Campbell Cooper relies on a power game that starts with a blistering serve. They will form a potent No. 1 doubles team.

Rios Peris took up the game at 7 years old, and the left-hander has developed a well-rounded skill set, playing on clay courts in her native country. Cooper heard the newcomer had an interest in tennis but was pleasantly surprised by her ability.

All three should be factors in the postseason with the Mideastern Conference individual race more open after the graduation of four-time StarNews Player of the Year McKayla Zupan, now at Appalachian State.

Last season's conference runner-up, Anna Hodges of Hoggard, is back for her senior year, along with Laney's Louisa Cone, who played in the 2012 state doubles tournament with junior Erin Nesselroade.

"I'm kind of just trying to have fun with it," said Campbell Cooper, who also plays lacrosse for the Wildcats. "I just want everybody to do well. No matter what position I play, I'm just going to try to win in my spot."


Eric Detweiler: 343-2261

On Twitter: @StarNewsVarsity