Mount Airy’s Davi Barbour has signed with Methodist University to play tennis.
Davi was part of a basketball team that racked up wins over the past three seasons, and she won a ring as part of a state champion track relay team. However, the senior really shined on the tennis court.
The Lady Bears have won three straight 1A dual-team championships, and Davi has been a big part of that.
Not only have the Bears had incredible success as a team, Davi and doubles partner Haley Thomas picked up three straight conference titles and reached the Final Four of the state 1A tournament all three seasons, too.
Twice Davi and Haley reached the championship match, only to finish second. Just week later, however, they would put those losses behind them to lead the Bears to the team title.
Tennis coaches James and Mary Alice Hayes joined high school coach Scott Kniskern at the signing announcement.
Davi’s mother, Regina, said she played tennis in high school and her own sister, Jill Kennedy Williams, was a good athlete in school.
Regina took Davi out to the courts to practice hitting over the summer before her seventh grade year.
At Mount Airy Middle School, she learned under Mary Alice.
“Right then and there I knew she was going to be shining star,” said Mary Alice. “She has a tremendous work ethic. She is also a scholar-athlete.
“She was in an undefeated program,” the coach recalled. “She was 10-0 in all of her matches, so 20-0 for the two years at the middle school.”
Then to get ready for high school, Davi began working with James after the eighth-grade season ended.
For months Davi learned from James before entering the ninth grade. The practices went so well that Davi continued to work with James throughout her career.
“She did something really unusual — she started as a freshman,” noted James.
“She played #5 as a freshman, then jumped to #2 as a sophomore.” That was a big jump, not only in the competition she faced from opposing teams, but from her own talented teammates to pull ahead of them in challenge matches.
“I didn’t change a lot. I enhanced some stuff. … She is one of my favorites of all time to work with. Great work ethic … great internal motivation.”
“She has taken a ton of lessons from me,” said James. “And then it got to where she would help me coach other children. She helped me in camps the past two summers.”
When Davi was in the eighth grade, a talented group of freshmen (including Jordan Jackson, Elizabeth Dinkins and Jade Hughes) helped the Bears reach the regional final where they lost 5-4 to East Montgomery.
It was a tough loss, but the team was returning that trio of freshmen, plus upperclassman Merry Kessler and three good players from the middle school.
Morgan Greenwood clinched the sixth seed, but Haley, the top seed at the middle school, chose cheerleading over tennis.
Davi took the fifth seed.
“You could definitely tell that she’d put in a lot of work,” said Kniskern. “She was out here all summer.”
Davi didn’t lose a single match all season. Then she didn’t drop a match in the dual-team playoffs as the Bears reached the state championship match.
“That was the year that the top six at the School of Science and Math all played #1 at their previous high school before they came,” said Kniskern. “So they had six #1’s and I had one.”
Davi’s opponent was the former top seed from Tarboro, a 2A school, yet Davi won.
After the team lost in the finals, Davi was determined to get better and stepped up her practices with James.
What went into those practices?
“Adding pace to the tennis ball, playing more aggressive. … At the next level, they just hit it harder, and if you can’t match that then they’ll get you,” James said.
“We worked a lot at the net,” he added. A lot of girls don’t like to play at the net, so if she could get to the point of feeling comfortable moving up sometimes the opponent wouldn’t be used to it.
“If everything else about Davi and her opponent is even … then if Davi has the nerve to move to the net, that can be the deciding factor.”
“She would work out two hours with Coach (Howard) Mayo and call me on the way home. ‘Coach Hayes, can we go hit?’ Where do you get your energy? … She would hit two more hours with me; that’s four hours she put in. She probably went down to the track and ran a mile, too.”
Then she probably stayed up late doing homework, too, added Mary Alice.
“She is an excellent student,” agreed James.
That stamina was very important, especially in her first two seasons when she was more comfortable playing the ball back to her opponent rather than go for winners.
“I think she outlasts people,” said James. In her earlier years, “it was not uncharacteristic for her to lose the first set.”
“The summer after my freshman year is when I started playing tournaments,” said Davi. “I think that’s what really helped me to do that because of seeing different competition. … I got beaten really bad.”
She had a rough summer as far as wins and losses go, said Kniskern. “Regardless of win or lose, you’re getting better and getting used to seeing different people.” She was learning to battle back from behind and putting a set loss aside so she could move on to the next set.
That is one of the reasons that Kniskern liked to schedule matches with really good teams like Reynolds, Watauga and 2A champion Salisbury.
“Getting stomped every once in a while, it’s good for you,” he said. “You’ve got to know that there’s always somebody better out there so you keep working.”
That 10th-grade year, the top five were all returning, plus Jade’s sister, Bree Hughes, was moving up from the middle school. And Haley had arranged it so she could both cheer and play tennis, so she came out for the team.
With seven talented players and only six starting spots, competition would be fierce, and Davi wasn’t assured of a starting spot.
“All that talent around her probably motivated her even more,” said Kniskern.
Instead of worrying about dropping down, she was thinking of moving up. Maybe even as high as number two behind 1A state champion Jordan Jackson.
Over the summer before her sophomore year, Davi recalled, “Daddy made a promise to me. He said, “If you make it to be #2 on the tennis team this next year, I’ll buy you a brand-new car.’ And I did it, and I ain’t seen that car yet.”
“We’re educators,” laughed Regina, so she had to settle for driving a used Taurus.
Rather than Kniskern picking seeds, the players determined the order through regular challenge matches.
“It’s one thing if you lose the three ahead of you and you get defaulted up to two, but she jumped every one of them,” said Kniskern.
“I was happy to see that; it’s always going to push everybody. She handled it well; obviously there were never any ego issues with her or anyone else on the team. It was everybody pushing to try to be the best they could be. It was all a team atmosphere all the time.”
When Davi first jumped up to second, Kniskern thought that one of the older players might challenge back and get a spot, but Davi showed it was no fluke by holding the spot the entire season.
Davi felt like she did well her sophomore year, but she lost a couple of times because of the harder competition.
In the postseason, she and Haley teamed up for the first of their three conference doubles championships. Davi also continued her streak of wins in the dual-team playoffs.
This time, the Bears would make it all the way to the state title.
After winning a state dual-team title and making the Final Four in doubles as a sophomore, did Davi feel like she could back off the workout intensity a little?
“I love the sport so much, and then finally getting to where we won, I love that feeling and I wanted to have that as much as I could.”
She again played in tournaments over the summer, but unlike the year earlier, she started to win some of those matches against tough opponents.
She also played AAU basketball over the summer.
“She advanced,” said Regina. “We had little milestones. … Every time we got something new it was all ‘woo!’”
Davi went into a tournament and was seeded rather than being treated like an unknown. Then it was cracking the top 100 in the USTA for her age group. Later it was breaking the top 50 in the USTA.
Some of these girls were so good, they were regional and state champions back in their home state or classification. Davi said she would make a goal of simply trying to twin two games. Against the very best, she would just try to win a point or two per game.
After Davi jumped from fifth to second in one season, Kniskern told her not to be satisfied with second. He wanted her to keep pushing to get better and keep playing challenge matches against Jordan to keep the top seed sharp, too.
Kniskern. “Early on, there weren’t a lot of close games. And then they began to get a little closer and a little bit closer.”
The Bears were the number one team in the dual-team coaches’ poll the entire season and wrapped it up with a second-straight 1A title.
Then, the team went through a makeover as Jackson, Dinkins and Jade Hughes graduated, leaving Davi, Haley and Bree as the top seeds welcoming some new talent into the starting lineup.
Davi said she had some back issues from overuse in her junior year. She decided to stop playing AAU basketball over the summer to focus on tennis for her senior year.
Stepping up to the top spot, she said, “It was a lot of pressure. But, it takes everybody to win. I knew we had to win lower seeds, too.” As a former fifth seed herself, she knew the value of wins in the bottom half of the lineup. She and Haley told the team that before the regional match against Bishop.
“The easy phrase to use for Davi is ‘lead by example,’” said Kniskern. She wasn’t usually a vocal leader, but when she spoke up, the girls listened.
With Davi, Haley and Bree leading the way, the Bears returned to win a third state title and were scheduled to receive those championship rings on Friday.
Davi was recruited by both Brevard and Pfeiffer, but chose Methodist.
“I liked the fact that it was small because Mount Airy is a small school,” she said. On a visit to the campus, the players were taking part in a little round-robin tournament. They convinced Davi to take part, and she had a great time.
“They were all so sweet and so nice. It really felt like the team here, how we’re so close. I was thinking that I wanted to be a part of that.”
Methodist just won its own conference this past season, she noted. “I wanted to be on a team that was competitive because that’s how it’s been here.”
• Coach Scott Kniskern on the difference between playing singles and doubles:
Singles and doubles are two completely different games. It’s like the difference between playing basketball in a team sport as compared to playing one-on-one. A great one-on-one player might hurt his team by not fitting into the team scheme.
Doubles is about teamwork and technique, said Kniskern.
“In doubles, 90 percent of what they’re going to face is two singles players on a court. You can see that in warm-ups. I’m like, “Okay, we’ve got this one.” Because you know they’re both going to stand back at the baseline. They’ll come to the net if they have to, then they’ll run back as quick as they can. Our girls didn’t do that; they looked for opportunities to go to the net.”
• Davi wasn’t just good at tennis. She was an honorable mention for all-conference her junior year in basketball, then she made all-conference as a senior. She also earned the coach’s award her junior year.
Davi was a team captain in basketball and track.
Not only did she earn an all-state performer honor for her 4x800 relay team, Davi also was all-state for finishing fourth in the 800 meters.
• The track championship was the most exciting of her four rings to earn because it was so unexpected, Davi said.
“We had just lost at regionals to Gray Stone,” she said. Of course, leadoff runner Alex Mayes had been sick that week and hadn’t practiced.
Then at the state level, “We were about a hundred meters behind them, so we didn’t think we could do it. But then everybody came around in front of their person.”
Alex got the girls off to a great start, and Davi and Jordan Hiatt did their part to stay even as both of the relay teams were on pace to set a state record.
Anchor Kirsten Parries dropped off the pace a little.
The other three runners were thinking, “Oh no. Well, we worked hard …”
“Then we said, ‘Wait a second, here she comes. She’s gaining on that girl.’”
When they won, not only were the four girls crying, but coach Clarence Cropps had tears flowing and his nose running.
• Davi is a member of the National Honor Society and the CTE Honor Society (Career and Technical Education).
She said she ramped up her course load in the 11th grade.
“Her junior year she was probably up every night until about 12 o’clock doing homework,” said Regina.
• A memorable match came while playing doubles against East Montgomery. Davi and Haley kept breaking strings.
“It was a bad batch of string, I think,” said Davi. James Hayes had just restrung both of her racquets. Haley had new strings, too, preparing for the playoff matches.
In warmups, each of them had a string break in their racquets. Overnight, James restrung Davi’s racquet.
Davi and Haley each broke a string the second day, too, but Haley didn’t have a replacement. Coach Kniskern went to his vehicle and pulled out his racquet for them to use.
Scott’s racquet didn’t feel the same, so the girls didn’t like hitting with it from the baseline. So, whenever one of them dropped back to take the serve, that player traded the coach’s racquet to the one stepping up to the net.