NCSSM earns trip to 1-A tennis finals
N.C. School of Science and Mathematics athletics director Greg Jarvis figures there’s room in the trophy case for some more championship hardware.
The Unicorns will go for the 1-A dual-team tennis title after beating Raleigh Charter High School 7-2 in the semifinals held at Jordan High School on Wednesday.
Raleigh Charter made NCSSM work for it a little bit.
On Monday in the quarterfinals, NCSSM didn’t even need to play doubles to put away Voyager.
The Unicorns (16-2) didn’t settle the score against Raleigh Charter until Josh Mu and Abhay Qureshi beat the Phoenix’s Cole Esleeck and Rohit Das 10-7.
NCSSM led 4-2 after the singles matches wrapped up and needed to win just one of the three doubles matches to advance.
The Unicorns won every one of the doubles matches.
“Traditionally, we’re very strong in doubles,” NCSSM coach Richard McClenny said.
The Unicorns didn’t play particularly good singles tennis against Raleigh Charter, which was without its No. 1 player. It might have been a different story if he’d shown up, McClenny said.
Jin Kang, the top player for NCSSM, turned in another strong performance, handling Neeraj Suresh 7-5, 6-1.
After NCSSM won the Eastern Regional Championship, one Unicorn appeared rather impressed by the accompanying hardware. But Jarvis quickly reminded him that unfinished business awaits in Burlington, where NCSSM will play Elkin (17-0) for the state title on Saturday. Elkin topped Bishop McGuinness on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be tough,” McClenny said. “Both of the teams on the other side are just as deep as we are.”
McClenny led NCSSM’s boys’ tennis team to a state title in 2008, and the school’s girls’ team under his guidance won it all in 2007, 2009 and 2010. The boys’ team was runner-up in 2010 and 2011, and the girls’ squad lost in the championship match in 2011 and 2012.
Kang, both a senior and the goalie of the year in soccer in the Carolina 12 Conference, is looking to bolster his NCSSM legacy before leaving the boarding school that is highly regarded academically.
“This would be my second state title at this school,” Kang said. “I won soccer last year. Soccer and tennis are the two sports I’ve stuck with my entire life, and if I could win two state championships in both of them, that’d be great.”
“He’s incredible,” McClenny said about Kang. “Gives it all out there on the court. Gives of his body, just like on the soccer field.”
Kang has a scar on his arm to prove it.
“A lot of times in my games, I will forget that it’s tennis and not soccer and just dive for the ball,” Kang said. “Usually my returns aren’t very good, but the other opponent is just so dumbfounded that I got it back.
“If you win one of those points, it’s just a huge momentum swing.”
Raleigh Charter coach Steve Efird respects Kang’s game.
“He’s real consistent,” Efird said. “He runs down every single ball out there, and he’s going to make you beat him. He’s not going to beat himself.”
Kang, from Chapel Hill, doesn’t believe he’s got enough game to play college tennis at North Carolina, where he’ll continue his studies after graduating from NCSSM. He said it’s going to be hard for him to no longer be a varsity tennis player after Saturday’s championship match, recalling the time when he broke down crying after playing his final soccer game for NCSSM.
“It becomes part of your identity,” Kang said. “I’ve gone through my life as the soccer player, the tennis player, and I felt like I’d just lost that.”
NCSSM 7, Raleigh Charter 2
Jin Kang (NCSSM) d. Neeraj Suresh 7-5, 6-1; Danny Oh (NCSSM) d. Jimmy Sims 6-0, 6-1; Austin Glass (RC) d. Josh Mu 6-4, 4-6 (10-7); Cole Esleeck (RC) d. Eric Wang 6-2, 6-4; Abhay Qureshi (NCSSM) d. Rukesh Chinthapatla 6-1, 6-4; Russell Aryeetey (NCSSM) d. Rohit Das 6-0, 6-4.
Kang/Wang (NCSSM) d. Suresh/Chinthapatla 9-7; Oh/Aryeetey d. Sims/Glass 10-4; Mu/Qureshi d. Esleeck/Das 10-7.
Records — Raleigh Charter 12-5, N.C. School of Science and Mathematics 16-2.