JUST TOO MUCH
East Chapel Hill got its first taste of Wakefield boys’ tennis on March 24 when East was riding high, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state by MyTennisNetwork.com.
Then-No. 2 Wakefield put a 7-2 hurting on the Wildcats on their home courts, but East felt the match wasn’t as lopsided as it appeared since four of the matches went to tiebreakers, according to ECH coach Lindsey Linker.
Remarkably — or so it appeared — East retained the No. 1 ranking, Wakefield the No. 2. But that was a mirage. The rankings actually should have been reversed, Linker said. A glitch with the MyTennisNetwork.com website prevented polls from being updated since that first showdown.
On Tuesday at Wakefield it was obvious why.
The 20-0 Wolverines crushed East — now 20-2 — 6-0, sweeping all six singles matches in straight sets and eliminating East in the second round of the state 4-A dual-team tennis championships.
Only one set went to a tiebreak, that between No. 6 players Connor Lutz of ECH and Nico Grewe of Wakefield, with Grewe coming through with a 10-5 tiebreaker win to close out a 6-3, 7-6 win.
“We can be a passive group sometimes, but we really came out and played today,” Wakefield coach Ken Stewart said. “Two years ago we lost in the state finals, last year we lost 5-4 (to eventual state 4-A champ Broughton) in the semifinals. Maybe this year we were a little more focused.”
“They’re so deep — so deep — and so talented,” Linker said of Wakefield. “We lost to a really good team. They’re just solid all the way down.”
Wakefield, now the odds-on favorite to take home the state title with East out of the picture, came out firing on all six courts. Rarely did an East player grab a lead and when one did, usually on courts No. 5 and No. 6, they tended to be by one game and no more.
At No. 1 singles, East’s Max Smith — the team’s lone senior in Tuesday’s top six — lost to nemesis Bob Boyden of Wakefield, a nationally ranked player, generally believed to be the best player in the state.
Boyden lost in the state individual title match last season and is the favorite to win that crown as a junior this spring.
Boyden’s accurate service game and strong groundstrokes kept Smith on the move and at bay throughout. Boyden closed out a 6-0, 6-1 win — the first decision of the day — with a passing shot while yelling, “Let’s go Wakefield!”
Linker was disappointed for Smith, not shocked at his loss to a player of Boyden’s caliber, but disappointed that the team leader, the only player on the team played in the team’s state 4-A runner-up season four years ago, never got back to the title round.
“For four years, it’s like Max put the team on his shoulders,” Linker said. “He had a taste that first year when we lost in the finals to R.J. Reynolds and it’s been a goal of his to get back ever since. He’s been the guy to light a fire under the guys ever since, telling them how great that was.”
At No 2, Jack Devonport was competitive with Wakefield’s Jackson Martin, but went down 6-2, 6-4. With the veterans down, East had to look to its three freshmen — No. 3 Kevin Huang, No. 4, Pryan DeSilva and No. 5 Nicholas Rennie — to come through.
It wasn’t to be. Phil Louture took care of Huang 6-0, 6-3, Blake Carter put down DeSilva 6-0, 6-1 and Andrew Belonga staved off Rennie 7-5, 7-5 in the closest match of the day.
But it was Lutz’s loss to Grewe that gave Wakefield its fifth and deciding point. The Rennie-Belonga match was the last of the day but wasn’t involved in the team outcome.
Doubles were not contested since the outcome had been decided in singles play.
“We had a little bit of the jitters,” NCHSAA Hall of Fame coach Linker said. “You want to do it (win a state title) for the seniors. “We talked about it all during the preseason, all season, but the better team won today.”
NOTES — Linker’s appreciation of Smith’s efforts were obvious as she sought him out and hugged him when the match was decided. She explained that Smith had been a coach in all but name when Linker was forced to sit out a season of coaching after her retirement from teaching as per state rules. ... Smith and the East doubles team of Devonport and Lutz will play on in the state individual championship tournament Thursday and Friday at Millbrook Exchange Park in Raleigh ... For the third straight season, East had to meet a No. 1-ranked team in the second round, too early, Linker said. The reason is the “pod” system that’s in place to save time and expenses in travel. Linker hopes the state high school athletic association will eventually seed the tournament as it does for soccer, for example, to avoid similar 1-2 matchups in early rounds in the future.