Saturday, November 11, 2023 | 11:01 AM
Shady Side Academy freshman Meriwether McCargo upset the apple cart.
That is to say, the 14-year-old McCargo won the WPIAL Class 3A girls tennis championship Sept. 21 at North Allegheny by upsetting the reigning champion.
“I was super excited to win the WPIAL championship,” McCargo said. “As a freshman, I didn’t fully understand the significance at first. I just played my best for every match. It’s rewarding to have a big win for my team and my school.
“My immediate thought was, ‘I can’t believe it. I actually won.’ I had decisively defeated a great player. It was an incredible feeling.”
McCargo, a Sewickley resident who was the No. 3 seed, defeated Penn-Trafford sophomore and No. 1 seed Mia Williams in straight sets 7-6 (1), 6-1.
“Mia Williams was definitely my toughest match of the WPIAL playoffs,” McCargo said. “She comes with a big reputation, won the 3A title in 2022 as a freshman, the first in 19 years, and was favored to win again.
“I came into the match partly relaxed because I knew I’d already made states, but I was intimidated and determined to get a few games off her. The first set required perseverance. I kept focused, found her weakness and fought hard.”
The girls tennis team at Shady Side Academy is coached by David Hasley. He has coached at the school for seven years but has an extensive coaching background that includes stints at Mars and Woodland Hills.
“Certainly, it’s a huge accomplishment, especially for a ninth grader,” Hasley said. “My immediate reactions were euphoria and relief.
“Euphoria for Meriwether’s accomplishment, and her abilities to overcoming all the adversities along the way to get there. Relief because all but one is a loser in a tennis tournament despite the overall commitment to the process. And that disappointment is something all players must constantly overcome.”
McCargo and Williams are the first girls to win back-to-back titles as freshmen in the highest classification since 2016 and 2017.
“The fact that a ninth grader has won two years in a row, and that there were several other ninth graders in contention for this year’s title, speaks volumes for the strength in WPIAL girls tennis,” Hasley said.
And McCargo’s achievement places her in a select group at Shady Side Academy. She is the third player in the school’s history to secure the singles title in the highest classification, joining Lauren Greco (2008) and two-time champion Ananya Dua (2016).
“Reaching Meriwether’s level of proficiency doesn’t come from just talent alone,” Hasley said. “It requires excessive training and self-sacrifice. Meriwether normally spends a minimum of three hours on the court each day, additional time cross-training and a few hours in commuting time, all while trying to balance a difficult study schedule and the stresses of being a teen in today’s world.
“From a coach’s standpoint, Meriwether is a one of a kind and the type of player most coaches can only dream of coaching. She is truly special on and off the court. I’ve been teaching and coaching tennis for 50 years. Someone like Meriwether comes along once or twice in a coaching lifetime.”
McCargo racked up impressive victories over Mt. Lebanon sophomore and No. 14 seed Jackie Tans, 10-7, and Bethel Park freshman and No. 6 seed Cami Fisher, 10-8, in the first two rounds of the WPIAL tournament.
The 5-foot-6, right-handed hitting McCargo edged Pine-Richland freshman and No. 2 seed Caroline Prisk, 6-4, 7-6 (3), in a tense WPIAL semifinal match.
McCargo wrapped up her WPIAL schedule with 7-0 regular-season and 4-0 section records, a 4-0 playoff mark and with one loss in the semifinal round at the WPIAL team tournament.
Hasley had early indications that McCargo’s unique talent would be on display in 2023.
“Meriwether came from behind to beat Sophia Cunningham from Mt. Lebanon early in the season,” Hasley said. “Meriwether lost the first set 2-6, and then crushed Sophia, 6-1, 6-2. That rang a bell in my head, and it solidified my belief that Meriwether could win the WPIAL title.
“Meriwether exerting her will and determination on the court is an artistic wonder. Her shot-making capabilities, ability to problem solve and adapt her playing style to adjust to different types of opponents is uncanny, especially at her age. Her never-give-up attitude and ability to reset a point and start over time and time again is unparalleled, and that in itself can prove a breaking point for many opponents.”
McCargo advanced to the PIAA tournament held Nov. 3-4 at Hershey Raquet Club.
SSA’s freshman phenom won her opening match against Cumberland Valley freshman Pragnya Joshi, the fourth-place finisher from District 3, 6-2, 7-5 (6).
McCargo then lost to Council Rock South senior Dasha Chichkina, 6-0, 6-1, in the quarterfinals. Chichkina, the Disctrict 1 runner-up, ended the 3A tournament in third place.
“I was hoping for a podium appearance,” Hasley said, “and Dasha Chichkina, who beat Meriwether, did in fact win the bronze. The four semifinalists in both singles and doubles were from the Philadelphia area.
“Kids in Western Pennsylvania are at a distinct disadvantage these days due to the limited numbers of indoor clubs in the area and even fewer local tournament offerings. Kids here must travel to Ohio, Philadelphia or New Jersey to play tournament tennis, and that’s a real disadvantage, especially to those just starting out in tournament life.”
McCargo said that when the draw was released for the state tournament, she was in awe of the quality of players in 3A.
“I decided I’d just play my game, see how far I could go and keep working for next year,” she said. “The first round was challenging, but I played well and won.
“My quarterfinal opponent was a senior D-I recruit who came in second in the state last year. She was stronger, more experienced, and I struggled to deliver powerful and consistent shots. She was incredibly consistent, making only three unforced errors the whole match.”
Hasley believes McCargo will use her experience in Hershey as a learning tool for future success.
“I fully expect Meriwether will win states at least once before she graduates,” Hasley said. “My expectations reach beyond high school and are pointed to how far up the Division I ladder Meriwether can go in terms of scholarship offers, and to see her fulfill her life dreams both on and off the court.
“Meriwether is a joy off the court, too. No prima donna here. She was committed to the team from Day 1. Her work ethic is an inspiration to her team members, and her abilities to raise their spirits as well as their level of play was obvious from the outset.”
SSA seniors Rachel Nath and Elana Sobol advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals in doubles after finishing as the WPIAL runners-up.
“Rachel and Elana burst onto the scene as No. 1 and 2 singles players as freshmen as well,” Hasley said. “They are both players that come along once in a decade, and I’m sure Meriwether’s arrival during their senior campaign wasn’t easy at first.
“They embraced Meriwether from the outset, and I’m sure Meriwether’s affectionate and infectious personality was a big part of that quick acceptance.”
Yes, McCargo made an immediate impact at Shady Side Academy, which is located in Fox Chapel and about 20 miles from Sewickley.
“My family chose Shady Side Academy for my sisters and me because it’s bigger and has more opportunities,” McCargo said. “An added bonus is it’s closer to Alpha Tennis and Fitness, where I train with Budi Susanto.”
One of five siblings, McCargo comes from a “tennis family” that started with her grandparents. Her older sister Lucille is a junior at SSA and an all-WPIAL selection in soccer.
McCargo plans to mogul ski with PA Freestyle at Seven Springs this winter and run track in the spring — all with her thoughts entrenched on the 2024 tennis season and defending her WPIAL championship.
Tags: Shady Side Academy