MATTHEWS – In the 2013 season, the Covenant Day boys tennis team went unbeaten and earned the top seed in the state’s premier private-school division.
The Lions would lose in the semifinals, but it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things because that season changed the trajectory of the program that has remained one of the state’s top since.
But the girls hadn’t been so successful.
In 2014, the Lions squeaked in the back door of the playoffs with a 4-7 record to get the No. 11 seed, but were easy first-round prey losing 7-2.
The next season, all of that changed from the very first match of the year thanks in large part to the arrival of then-freshman Anna Daniels.
“Anna brought a number of intangibles when she came out as a freshman in the fall of 2015 that helped to see the girls program begin to mirror the path that the boys program had established since 2012,” said Covenant Day coach George Wolbers. “She was a leader from Day 1, beginning with her win over Caroline Kurani, an all-state selection in 2014, in her first match at the Number 1 position.”
For Daniels, that match was a welcome to the big leagues kind of moment that has helped frame a career that has since become one of the state’s all-time best.
“It was definitely encouraging,” she said of defeating Kurani. “You go in and in my first match face someone with a title like that. It was a little like, ‘whoa’ to go into it, but after I realized we’re all here to play tennis and whatever the outcome is is what it is. It’s super fun, and it was a very good feeling.”
From that very first match, Daniels has helped lift her game and raise the fortunes of the entire girls’ program.
In 2015, the Lions were much improved already as they went 10-5 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Daniels was fantastic on her No. 1 line and earned all-state honors as a freshman.
In 2016, the Lions were 12-4, and like the boys, made it to the semifinals of the state. Last season, they were 13-1 and again semifinalists with Daniels leading the way.
The Lions were 8-7 this season, but Daniels has been the one constant throughout all the four-year run that has put the Lions in a different class of teams.
She was also an all-state selection each of those three seasons, earning the rare all-state four-peat. It’s unknown how many other private-school players have achieved the accolade, but only four girls have ever done it in the history of the NCHSAA, the state’s governing body of public schools, so you’d have to assume not many.
“It’s a payoff for the hard work, I guess,” said Daniels, who has been playing since age 6 and playing seriously since about 8 or 9. “There has been a lot of years that have gone into this and it makes me very happy and very excited about it.”
During her four years with the Lions, Daniels has racked up some impressive accomplishments. In addition to being the 2018 Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Girls Tennis Player of the Year, Daniels is a four-time all-conference and all-state pick and has accrued a 92-24 career record with the Lions.
She’s also done a lot more than all of what she’s accomplished individually.
“She displayed a can-do spirit that contributed greatly to dispelling the long-held myths believed by many that we could not quite measure up to Providence Day, Latin and Country Day,” Wolbers said.
Daniels proved to be a program changer who will go down as the best-ever Covenant Day player and in rare air with her four-peat of all-state awards.
But, to Daniels, it’s more about what her team meant to her and she to it.
“Our team is so close together and we have such a close bond so win or lose we’re so proud of each other,” she said. “I think that’s an encouraging thing for our team because we always try to go out there and put out our best fight and whatever happens, happens.
“We did a lot. We won the conference championship in my sophomore year and that had never happened. We beat Country Day, Providence Day and Charlotte Latin – teams that we’d never beaten before – so it was very encouraging. And it was fun.”
Ranked No. 9 in North Carolina’s Class of 2018 and a three-star recruit by Tennisrecruiting.net, Daniels attracted the attention of schools like Sewanee, Washington and Lee and Wofford but ultimately chose to be a member of the five all-North Carolina girls freshmen class going to UNC Wilmington.
“I was looking at a lot of places, but UNC Wilmington was just such a great fit all around,” she said. “It was the perfect size, it has exactly what I want to study and I loved the team and the coaches. I’m so excited.”
Daniels said she wants to study either healthcare management or exercise science at the beach, but has one more tennis stop before she arrives on campus.
Through tennis, Daniels has become a big part of Aceing Autism, a program that’s held twice a year at Charlotte Latin.
“Tennis has been a door opener for me,” Daniels said. “First of all, I’ve gotten to meet people that I otherwise never met in my life. It’s also exposed me to Aceing Autism where the community of tennis players has clinics for kids with autism. You expose them to tennis and to social interaction, and I never would have known about that had I not played tennis. I love it, and it’s become such a big part of my life.
“Tennis is something that’s been fun for me and I’m really excited to get to UNC Wilmington.”