So far, 2016 has been the Year of the Bear in Northwest 1A Conference tennis.
Mount Airy wrote another chapter into its season of dominance on Thursday afternoon, adding the conference doubles tournament title to its regular-season co-championship, top playoff seed via a tiebreaker match, and the conference singles title that the Bears claimed the day before. It took Harrison Morris and Gentry Williamson less than an hour to polish off Bishop McGuinness’ Ivo Pestana and Henry Kirby and give the Granite Bears a sweep of the conference tournament crowns.
Morris and Williamson, who had not competed as a team at any time during the regular season, stunned the Villains’ top doubles team of Adam Chinnasami and Lance Dittrich 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in a semifinal match the day before, and started a match against Bishop’s normal No. 2 doubles team of Pestana and Kirby for the championship. Morris and Williamson won five of the first seven games but then dropped three straight before rain called a halt to the proceedings.
The teams resumed play at 6 p.m. Thursday, and if the Bears’ tandem had lost focus a bit the evening before, they certainly had it back the next day.
The very first game may have set the tone for the rest of the match. The Villains’ winning streak at the end of the day on Wednesday had them in a prime position to steal the first set — play resumed with Pestana serving for Bishop at 5-5 and a chance to take the lead.
Nevertheless, it was clear that Morris and Williamson were on their games again. Mount Airy led 30-15 and 40-30 in the first set before Pestana and Kirby forced deuce and even held the advantage three separate times. Each time, the Bears fought back to deuce, and finally won the game by taking three consecutive points.
Having earned the break, they easily won on their service game and took set one, 7-5.
Before anyone knew what had happened, set two had begun with Bishop on serve and the Bears promptly broke them again, taking an immediate advantage in a set that Pestana and Kirby had to win. In the second game, with Mount Airy on serve, things were hanging in the balance, with Williamson swapping back-line strokes with Kirby until Morris stepped up and smashed one at the net to make it 30-15. Morris’ alert play made the difference as Bears went on to hold serve and lead 2-0. Then they rallied from 15-40 down on the Villains’ serve, winning five straight points to take complete command of the match, ahead 7-5, 3-0.
Things got a bit strange after that, as Morris started to struggle with his serve. With the Bears’ No. 2 singles player out of sync and having to lay up soft second serves, Pestana and Kirby took a 40-15 lead before strong baseline play from Williamson pulled the tandem back to deuce. However, the Villains won the next two points and had a break of their own despite having lost every service game.
That streak continued in the next game, as Mount Airy broke Bishop to led 4-1, losing just a single point in the process. The Villains responded by returning the favor, playing some of their best tennis of the evening to lead 30-0. The Bears rallied to get to deuce, but then lost the next two points, one on a double fault.
Now it was 4-2, but the Bears had their opponents right where they wanted them. Bishop hadn’t held serve once all day, and didn’t start then or ever. Morris and Williamson lost just one point in breaking the Villains yet again, putting them one win away from the title if they could just hold serve themselves.
This time, they did.
Morris opened the final game by double-faulting, but Williamson picked him up at 15-all with a winner and the Bears didn’t look back. A long shot by the Villains gave the Bears match point, and they closed it out on the next point for the title.
The title added to the laurels earned by Williamson, Mount Airy’s lone senior starter. He and Morris will move on to represent the Bears in the 1A West Regional on May 6 in Elkin. All four of the team’s top singles players will be represented. Mount Airy’s Nos. 1 and 4 singles players, Hunt Harrison and Emory Bray, earned trips on Wednesday by finishing first and third in the conference singles tournament.
“This was an especially rewarding achievement for Gentry,” said coach Rodney Pell. “He’s been part of the program for four years, he’s a really strong doubles player, and now he’s got a conference championship.”
A completely unexpected one, at that. Bishop McGuinness all but conceded the singles title to Harrison and stacked the lineup for doubles, entering both of its top teams. Morris and Williamson, playing as a team for the first time this year, bested both Villain duos and took the title as the fourth seed.
As a team, the 19-2 Granite Bears earned a top seed and a first-round bye in the 1A state playoffs. They will host a second-round match on May 10.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.