Saturday, May 23, 2009

Firebirds defy the odds

Southern Nash hits the court today for the second straight year at the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A boys tennis championship.

The Firebirds didn't fare well in their last trip to the state finals at Burlington Tennis Center, losing 6-0 to Charlotte Catholic. Southern Nash won't have to worry about Charlotte Catholic today as the Cougars were toppled by Lake Norman in the West Regional final Thursday.

But Lake Norman has to be the odds-on favorite to win it all. After all, only one team east of Raleigh has won the 3-A title since the classifications were split up in 1986 and that was Eastern Wayne in 2003. The only other team east of Raleigh to win a boys state title since 1963 was Hunt when freshman Jim Rogerson led the Warriors to the school's first state championship. The NCHSAA's record book is spotty prior to 1963 but it appears Goldsboro and Rocky Mount may have won some state titles in the 1950s.

Needless to say, eastern N.C. is not where the best tennis players are found and certainly not in the 3-A ranks. But does that mean the Firebirds don't have a chance today? I didn't think they had a chance to even get this far considering they lost 5 of their starting 6 singles players from last year's team. The 2008 Firebirds had several players like Michael Barnes and Ethan Page who had been starting since their sophomore seasons.

Last May, it seemed Southern Nash's unbeaten run to the East crown was the culmination of many years of excellence under the watchful eye of head coach Brad Joyner. I figured Joyner would have another solid team this year but didn't think he and the Firebirds could pull off another unbeaten run to the state championship.

Certainly, he's been helped by the addition of German exchange student Julian Paulsen at No. 1 singles but the play of guys like Jordan Hagler, Isaac Arnold, Adam Glover and the Matthews brothers, Will and Clay, has been spectacular. For a rural school that draws students from an area larger than Wilson County, Southern Nash has established itself as a true state power in boys tennis.

So, although the Firebirds will take the court today as decided underdogs, who's to say they can't pull off the upset? But if they can't, I wouldn't bet against them going to Burlington again next May.

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