The Mount Airy tennis program has become one of the most successful teams in the Granite City in recent years, and the first squads to taste success at the highest stage will be recognized this weekend.
After a few down years for Mount Airy boys’ tennis, the 2005 and 2006 teams each won a state championship, the first two in program history. The teams will be inducted into the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday for their achievements in the sport, but also for the blazing trail they set for future tennis teams.
“This team set the stage for the teams that followed and were the beginning of a glorious era for Mount Airy High School men’s tennis,” said Scott John, the Mount Airy boys tennis coach from 2004-2010.
The members of those historic teams were: William John, Andrew Gitt, Joe Gitt, Michael Rader, Matt Johnson, Ryan Niland, Alex Ilyasov, Chase Pumerantz, Nathan Hagar, Nicholas Gwyn, Harry Appler and Dusty Robeson.
Before Scott John took over the team in the 2004 season, he was the coach at Mount Airy Middle School. He had a first-hand look at many of these players’ rise and growth, so he was fairly confident the team had what it took to win a title.
“Some of them I worked with even before sixth grade,” Coach John said. “When that crowd made it to high school, it had been six years since Mount Airy had even won a playoff tennis match. But that group took over their freshman year and really started to change things.”
The turning point Coach John points to is one of the first matches of the 2005 season against Elkin. The Elks had won four straight state championships and eliminated the Bears in two consecutive regional finals, but a 5-4 result in favor of Mount Airy to start the season helped the entire team believe the rest of the spring would be special.
“It was just a match that we were down and losing throughout, even down a match point, but we came back and got the win,” John said. “I really think that set us up to go on and win our two matches against Elkin down the season pretty easily.”
The second of those other two victories over the Elks came in the Western Regional Final. Mount Airy didn’t even have to play the doubles portion of that match because it earned the necessary five points during the singles competition.
After that weight was lifted off the Granite Bear shoulders, Mount Airy cruised to victory with a 6-0 win over Spring Creek in the 2005 state championship match.
The following year, Mount Airy faced a new foe in the semi-final. It was the first year charter schools competed in the NCHSAA public school playoffs, and Mount Airy narrowly defeated Raleigh Charter with a 5-4 win. In the state finals, the Bears once again swept their opponent aside with a 6-0 win against Topsail to claim their second consecutive championship.
During this span, Mount Airy went undefeated in its conference and also defeated a number of 3-A and 4-A schools in non-conference play.
“It was just something where we wanted to play a tough non-conference schedule,” John said. “We wanted to get better, and other than Elkin, there wasn’t a ton of great 1-A competition. But we held our own against some of the bigger schools and even won our fair share of games.”
Coach John retired from Mount Airy High School in 2010, but not before winning another pair of state titles during the 2009-2010 seasons. He is now a coach at Carroll County (Va.) High School, but he still keeps up with Mount Airy tennis as much as he can.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16