The Mount Airy tennis team accomplished many things in the 2016 season, but the Granite Bears’ hopes of seizing the ultimate goal came to a close in the third round of the NCHSAA 1A playoffs.
Mount Airy fell 5-1 to Lincoln Charter (13-1) Monday on its home courts. The Eagles wrapped things up without the doubles matches, and they made relatively quick work of their first three singles wins before grinding out a pair of third-set tiebreaks to clinch the victory.
Lincoln Charter took an early 2-0 lead with wins by No. 2 seed Jackson Law and No. 3 Nick Rice. Law defeated Mount Airy’s Harrison Morris 6-0, 6-1 while Rice earned a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Gentry Williamson. Morris and Williamson both struggled with their first serve, allowing their Eagle opponents to have plenty of break opportunities.
Mount Airy got on the board next with a smooth 6-3, 6-4 victory by No. 4 Emory Bray. He clinched the match with breaks in each set to knock off Lincoln Charter’s Davis Rapp.
However, the Bears’ momentum was short-lived as the Eagles got back on track when No. 5 Jimmy Sherril defeated Grey Tucker at 6-3, 6-2. Mount Airy needed one win out of the final two singles matches to force doubles competition.
It looked like Bears’ top-seeded Hunt Harrison could provide that victory against Parker Powell in a rematch of a match won by Harrison in the second round of the 1A West Regional. The junior lefty got off to a good start, and a break at 4-4 propelled Harrison to a 6-4 win in the first set. But Powell bounced back, earning a 6-4 win in the second set and a 10-4 triumph in the third-set tie break to give Lincoln Charter a 4-1 lead.
All of the spectators’ attention then turned to the No. 6 match between Mount Airy’s Hunter Eaton and Lincoln Charter’s Grant Swicegood. Eaton battled back after losing the first set, but in the end, Swicegood pulled away for a 6-2, 6-7 (7-4), (10-6) victory that clinched the third-round win for the Eagles.
Mount Airy finished a terrific season with a 20-3 record. The Bears won a share of the Northwest Conference title for the first time since 2010 and swept the singles and doubles championships at the conference tournament. Harrison earned the singles crown, with the duo of Williamson and Morris winning the doubles championship. All three of those players also advanced to the NCHSAA individual state tournament.
Mount Airy head coach Rodney Pell is especially proud of his team’s accomplishments, because of how they rebounded after losing some talented players from last year’s team. The Bears had to replace three singles starters and featured brand-new doubles combinations at all three spots.
The future is also especially bright for Mount Airy. Williamson is the only senior on this year’s squad, and although Coach Pell will miss his reliable three-seed, the other five starters will all return for 2017.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16