CARY — A month ago, Green Hope’s boys tennis team breezed past Panther Creek 9-0 in the first round of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference dual matches.
This time, Green Hope “settled” for an 8-1 victory that clinched the Falcons’ 13th straight conference title, but the matches were closer than the one-sided final team score suggests. A point here or there in No. 1 and No. 3 doubles and in No. 6 singles, and Green Hope might have been forced to squeeze out a 5-4 victory.
But if you think Green Hope coach Kevin Taylor and his athletes are wringing their hands with conference, regional and state competition approaching, you’re overlooking the big picture. Taylor liked having his young players pushed before the pressure of the upcoming post-season.
“We had some closer matches, and I liked the way our guys responded,” Taylor said. “We needed that. We’ve haven’t had close matches in our conference.”
Green Hope played without No. 2 singles Luis Rico, but Taylor credited Panther Creek’s overall performance.
“They are a considerably better team than when we last played,” he said. “We didn’t play poorly; they improved quite a bit.”
In doubles, Green Hope freshman Ben Wayand and sophomore Matt Whitney pulled out an 8-6 victory at No. 1 and freshmen Ashwin Inala and Vik Shashidhar survived with a 9-7 win at No. 3. At No. 2, sophomore Eshan Javalkar and freshman Rohit Ghotkar won 8-4.
The doubles scores last month were Green Hope wins of 8-0, 8-2, 8-0, respectively.
In singles, Wayand won at No. 1 6-1, 6-2, but his youth didn’t prevent him from appreciating Panther Creek pushing the Falcons’ overall lineup.
“It was fun today,” Wayand said. “We liked having the competition before the playoffs. We needed some good comebacks in doubles to win. And my singles match was closer than the score.”
Panther Creek’s Matt Fahys accounted for the Catamounts’ lone team point at No. 2 singles with a 7-6, 5-3 win.
At No. 6 singles, Green Hope’s Erik Persson won his final home match as a senior, but he needed a tiebreaker to pull out a 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) victory over Alex Zistlow.
Green Hope’s other singles wins were Whitney at No. 3, 6-2, 6-3; Javalkar at No. 4, 6-3, 6-3; and Iyer at No. 5, 6-1, 6-3.
By now you might have noticed the youth of Green Hope’s lineup. Rico, a junior, is one of only two of last year’s six players who returned from a veteran lineup that advanced to the third round of the regionals before losing to eventual state champion Millbrook.
Wayand says the team chemistry to make a run is better than might be expected for a group that is new to entering high school post-season competition.
“We’ve played together for a long time,” he said of the junior circuit. “We’re not thinking about age. We’re looking forward to it.”