The Mount Airy boys’ tennis team was already fairly young coming into the 2017 season, but Coach Rodney Pell didn’t bargain for what he faced on Thursday afternoon when Northwest 1A Conference rival Atkins came calling.
When it came time for the Granite Bears to take on the Camels, Pell found himself without the services of his top player, senior Hunt Harrison. Harrison was too sick to play, and this meant that Mount Airy would have to beat the Camels — a team that starts two seniors and four juniors in its singles lineup — with a lineup of three freshmen and three sophomores, and with every member of the lineup playing one spot up from normal.
So it was understandable that the Camels clobbered the Bears and took the early lead in the NW1A standings.
Only, they didn’t.
Mount Airy improved to 8-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play by sweeping all six singles matched en route to an 8-1 victory over one of the most experienced teams in the conference. Only one of the six matches was even particularly close. Atkins did pull out the No. 2 doubles match at the end of the evening, but no one much cared at that point.
“I am proud of how well these young players accepted the unexpected challenge of competing without Harrison against a team of veteran underclassmen,” said Pell.
If Atkins thought they were facing a team of shorthanded Cubs, they were quickly disabused of the notion. One of the three freshmen, No. 4 seed Kaleb Morrison, drubbed Arel D’Agostino in set one without losing a single game. D’Agostino tried to rally in set two, earning a service break to open and leading 2-1 when Morrison caught fire and swept the last five games for the Bears’ first team point.
Things weren’t going much better anywhere else, if you happened to be a Camel fan. At the top of the lineup, Emory Bray had lost two of the first three games to Atkins’ Dillon Jennings, but then lost just two more the rest of the match, winning 6-3, 6-1 for a 2-0 Bear lead.
No. 2 Hunter Eaton kept the Bears rolling. He wrapped his match up next, sweeping Akshat Dixit 6-0 in set one and then scoring a break early in set two, when Dixit played much better. At 5-2, the Atkins player earned a break of his own to stay alive, but Eaton broke back to win the second set, and the match.
Owen Perkins lost serve just once in downing Jared Solomon at No. 3. His 6-2, 6-1 win paved the way for No. 5 seed Cayden Hill to lock up the team win for Mount Airy. He trailed Anthony Dixon 2-3 in the first set, but then won two straight games and never trailed again, taking the match 6-4, 6-1.
Hernan Ramirez, who was in the Bear lineup at No. 6 because of Harrison’s absence, lost his first set against Atkins junior Alex Dixon. He held the opening serve and led 3-2 in set one, but then lost the last four games of the opening set and the first of set two. However, the freshman didn’t fold in his first official appearance as a Mount Airy Bear. Ramirez proceeded to win six straight games to claim the second set and force a match tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker set, he went ahead at 3-2 and then won the next two games before Dixon rallied to tie it at 6. Ramirez won three straight points to reach triple match point, but Dixon won the next two before Ramirez took the match in a 3-6, 6-1, (10-8) barnburner.
Because of Harrison’s absence, Pell had to use new combinations for his Nos. 1 and 3 doubles teams. Ironically, the only tandem that the Camels beat was the No. 2 team of Perkins and Hill, which in fairness were playing up a seed. They lost their first three games to Atkins veterans Dixit and D’Agostino and were unable to rally in an 8-5 loss, but by that time, the Bears had already won the other two doubles.
Morrison and newcomer Ramirez were the first to finish, beating Anthony and Alex Dixon 8-5. They actually trailed 1-4 early in the match, but then won seven of the last eight games. Next up were Bray and Eaton, who took on Jennings and Solomon at No. 1 doubles. They also won seven of the last eight games, prevailing 8-2.
Mount Airy will travel to Forbush on Tuesday for a non-conference tilt.