CARY — The Tri-9 Conference boys’ tennis championships held at the Cary Tennis Center on Tuesday were a mix of old – a three-time winner in the conference’s doubles title – and new, as a freshman prevailed in singles.
The conference sends six doubles teams and six singles players to next weekend’s N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A Mideast individual regional.
Singles belong to Stachowiak
Most of the time, players as highly ranked as Middle Creek’s Nick Stachowiak don’t play for their high school. But unfortunately for the rest of the league, the state’s top-ranked and nation’s 17th-ranked freshman said he wanted to play for his school.
That preference was emphatically made known this week. The Tri-9 moved up its two-day tournament by one day to accommodate for the ACC championships that take place later this week at the same venue.
Monday’s first two rounds of the Tri-9 conflicted with a big national tournament’s final round. Stachowiak had a choice to make, but he chose the Tri-9.
“I’ve got to represent Middle Creek, my school,” Stachowiak said. “I feel like it’s a job I should do, because I go to the school, to make the team the best that I can.”
Stachowiak entered the tournament undefeated in singles and doubles and having dropped only seven games in singles play.
After breezing through the first three rounds, he was tested by Green Hope’s Kelly Patch. Patch was up 5-2 in the second set, but Stachowiak gathered himself to rally for a 6-1, 7-5 victory.
“I haven’t seen Nick down all year,” Blanchard said. “Although he’s a freshman, he’s a very seasoned player and he’s very savvy and smart in his game. I knew even if he gave up the second set that he would come back in the 10-point tiebreaker and that we would be OK.”
Stachowiak’s older brother Matt, who graduated last year, made it to two conference finals in singles.
“I’m going to rub this in his face for sure,” Nick said.
The Tri-9 Conference singles champion has played for a 4A state title in each of the last four seasons and Apex’s Wesley Barrett won it all in 2010 (Green Hope’s Jake Bowling in 2009, Athens Drive’s Roman Cacha in 2011 and Apex’s Graham Duncan in 2012 were runners-up).
Now it’s Stachowiak’s turn to see if he can join them.
“That’s my goal – to be the state champion,” he said.
Aside from Stachowiak and Patch, also qualifying for the Mideast regional next weekend in singles were: Apex’s Will Ostrom (lost 6-0, 6-0 to Stachowiak in the semifinals), Middle Creek’s Justin Panepinto (lost 5-7, 6-1, 10-6 to Patch in the semifinals) and Green Hope’s Ashwyn Iyer and Athens Drive’s Jack Lawson.
Lawson and Iyer had to win back-draw matches to clinch their spots.
Doubles are Green Hope’s game
Green Hope senior duo Matt Hammond and Kyle Burns experienced déjà vu not once but twice in their championship doubles match.
Their opponents for the second straight year were teammates Matt Wickelgren and Michael Neighbors. After winning in a third-set tiebreaker in the semifinals, Burns and Hammond had to do it again.
Hammond and Burns won 6-4, 1-6, 10-6 to claim their third consecutive Tri-9 doubles title.
“The round before this, we got stuck in a tiebreaker,” Burns said. “That was because we got off to a slow start. This time, we came out hot and then died. The tiebreaker saved us.”
Against Holly Springs’ Chase Andries and Grant Miller, Burns and Hammond faced two match points in the tiebreaker. Wickelgren and Neighbors had the edge in stamina as they didn’t have to play their semifinal match. Panther Creek’s Matt Fahys and Henrik Lindvall were pulled from the tournament.
“It came down to the mental aspect of the game,” Hammond said. “We were physically pretty tired, but we had been in the situation before, so we stepped it up and pulled it out.”
The two have been playing double together since their middle school years and have lost just one match this year.
“Our strengths and weaknesses kind of complement each other,” Burns said. “I have a pretty good forehand and he has a real solid backhand. And our volleys are both pretty solid, so that works nicely together.”
Regional doubles qualifiers included both Green Hope teams and the semifinalist teams from Holly Springs, who lost 5-7, 6-4, 12-10 to the eventual champs, and Panther Creek.
Winning back-draw matches to clinch the remaining conference tournament spots were Apex’s Cole Bowser and Carter Bradshaw, as well as Panther Creek’s Balaji Lenin and Guy Blanc.
In the upcoming team tournament, conference champ Green Hope and runner-up Panther Creek have automatic bids. Middle Creek and Holly Springs will play a makeup match Wednesday for third place, with the winner hoping for a wild-card bid.
Blake: 919-460-2606 or @JMBpreps on Twitter