By MARK PARKER Record Sports Correspondent
Saturday’s 3A state championship of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association dual-team tennis tournament will feature a team that has had a stretch of success over the past decade playing a team that wants to return to that success.
Playing in its ninth tournament overall, Carrboro (30-5 NCHSAA playoffs) has reached the finals five times since 2012 and won championships in 2014, 2015 and 2018, all coming in the 2A classification.
Meanwhile, Hickory (56-24 NCHSAA playoffs) returns to the championship courts for the first time since 2006. That season culminated a stretch of four straight seasons during which the Red Tornadoes made it to the finals, winning it all in 2004 and 2006. In recent years, playoff wins in the dual format were absent, as Hickory entered this year’s first round without a postseason victory since 2016.
Last year, without a dual-team tournament format due to COVID-19 protocols, a state team championship was awarded as part of the individual tournament. Carrboro won the 2A team championship with Hickory sharing the 3A title.
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For both, a new chapter is waiting to be written. With several players returning next year, the Red Tornadoes hope this run is the start of a new string of title runs. With a bump up in classification, Carrboro has proven that the uptick in competition has not hindered its goal of another championship appearance, and now the Jaguars look to add a 3A championship to the trophy case.
Here is a capsule look at both teams (quotes for each Hickory player were provided by assistant coach Alex King).
Piedmont Indoor Tennis Center (21 Oak Branch Dr B, Greensboro), Saturday at 8:30 am
East No. 7 Carrboro (18-2) vs. West No. 3 Hickory (14-0)
About Hickory (56-24 NCHSAA playoffs, state titles, 2004, 2006):
Playoff results: 4/27 vs. No. 14 Fred T. Foard (9-0); 5/3 vs. No. 11 Crest (7-2); 5/9 at No. 2 Lake Norman Charter (6-3); 5/11 vs. No. 4 South Point (5-4)
Expected Singles Lineup (records in dual matches only):
No. 1 Griffin Lovern, Jr. (12-0)
Coach King: “He played through a bad cold in our semifinal match against South Point. He pulled out his singles match in a third-set tiebreak and then fought through an immense amount of pain to win at No. 1 doubles to clinch the match for us. He is a junior and a truly amazing athlete and player for our team. “
No. 2 Costen Holtzman, Sr. (12-0)
Coach King: “He played the best match I have ever seen him play in singles (vs. South Point). Also, played amazing in doubles to clinch the match for us. He is a senior and has been the vocal leader for our team . He will be attending UNC Chapel Hill next year. “
No. 3 Clint Powers, So. (12-0)
Coach King: “He played one of his best matches at singles (vs. South Point) and has excelled this year on the tennis court as well as in the classroom.”
No. 4 Lewis Tate, Sr. (8-0)
Coach King: “He played an amazing match in singles (vs. South Point). He has been a joy to coach and will be attending UNC Chapel Hill next year.”
No. 5. Maddox McCleur, Sr. (8-4)
Coach King: “He had a tough singles match but has pulled through many other matches this year for us. He is attending East Carolina University next year.”
No. 6 Parker Yount Jr. (8-4).
Coach King: “This is his first year in the top six and he played a very good player Wednesday (vs. South Point). He has improved tremendously this year and the sky is the limit for him next year.”
No. 1 Lovern / Holtzman (11-0, 3A state doubles runners-up, 3A West Region champions); No. 2 Tate / Powers (9-0); No. 3 McCleur / Yount (1-2)
Hickory has had quite a run to get to this point, ending several unbeaten seasons over the past month. The Red Tornadoes took out Fred T. Foard to clinch the Western Foothills 3A Conference championship. Later that same week, Hickory closed out the regular season by handing Watauga its first loss.
After wins over Foard and Crest in the first two rounds, the Red Tornadoes defeated Lake Norman Charter, which had lost only four individual matches entering the 3A state quarterfinals. Hickory topped that by ending South Point’s season after the Red Raiders had lost only one individual match prior to Wednesday’s West Region final.
The ability for Hickory to match up with the top players for the opposition has been crucial. In the quarterfinal against Lake Norman Charter, Lovern and Holtzman each defeated state tournament players Sean Huynh and Abri Parimi, both in straight sets. Against South Point, the two took down James Dover and Shiv Patel, respectively, both state tournament players as well.
The two will likely have a key match in doubles in what will be a rematch from last weekend’s 3A state doubles final, during which Jonathan Baddour and Aidan Chung defeated Lovern and Holtzman in straight sets. All four of the top two doubles teams were in the 3A state semifinals.
Coach’s comments: “I think the overarching theme that I would like to be known about this team is that it is truly a special one. I honestly did not know that we could make it this far, but cannot express in words how proud I am of this group of guys. The seniors on this team have been amazing leaders and the coaches all agree that they will be missed and that it has truly been a joy to not only coach them, but to get to know them as people. “
Expected Singles Lineup (records in duals only, provided through 4/22)
No. 1 Aidan Chung, Sr. (8-1, 2021 2A state singles champion); No. 2 Johnathan Baddour, Jr. (7-1); No. 3 Wesley Hanes (6-4); No. 4 Jonas Miyagawa, (10-2); No. 5 Connor Nicol, Sr. (9-0); No. 6 Tyler Herndon (8-4)
No. 1 Chung / Baddour (5-0, 2022 3A state doubles champion); No. 2 Miyagawa / Nicol (2-0, 3A state doubles semifinalist); No. 3 TBA
Playoff results: 4/27 vs. No.10 Cedar Ridge; 5/3 at No. 2 Croatan (7/2); 5/9 vs. West Carteret (9-0); 5/11 vs. No. 9 Terry Sanford (5-1)
The Jaguars won the Northern Lakes 2A / 3A Conference during the regular season. Their two losses this season came against Durham Academy and 4A playoff team Grimsley. Carrboro’s victory over Terry Sanford in Wednesday’s 3A East Regional final was a repeat of a dual played earlier in the season, which the Jaguars won 8-1.