DURHAM — A Raleigh school and a Chapel Hill opponent relied on Triangle connections to get in their NCHSAA Class 3A state dual-team tennis match on a rain-drenched Thursday afternoon at Duke’s indoor Sheffield Center.
Cardinal Gibbons of Raleigh beat Chapel Hill 6-0 in matches that were accompanied by a roar from heavy rain hitting the vaulted facility’s roof and a 25-minute delay for a tornado warning after a siren sounded on the Duke campus.
But none of that was enough to rattle the Crusaders as they followed up regular-season wins of 8-1 and 6-0 over their Big Eight 3A Conference rival. Cardinal Gibbons and Chapel Hill have previously relied on the Sheffield indoor courts in the state tournament, thanks to coach Andrew Tuttle’s connections as a Duke alum and working at the facility in the summer months.
“It’s a much quicker surface, but we’re used to it from having played here before,” said UNC-bound senior Robert Kelly, who beat Chris Chang at No. 1 singles 6-3, 6-2.
Kelly improved his unbeaten season in individual and team competition to 25-0 with two dual-team wins this week after he won the 3A state individual title last week at the Burlington Tennis Center. With one more win he can top last year’s 25-0 season.
The roll he is on includes winning the USTA Raleigh 1A 18s title that concluded on Monday. The field included some of the top players in the South.
Gibbons – which includes 3A state individual doubles champions Matt Galush and Noah Constantine – returns to the Burlington courts in search of its fifth straight 3A team Saturday match. The 3A and 2A state finals are played at 9:30 a.m. and followed by the 4A and 1A state finals at 12:30 p.m.
The state might championships might seem routine for the Crusaders’ veterans, but freshmen Brody Chapman and Kyler Zadell are enjoying the rookie experience. Both players moved up a notch in Thursday’s matches when Constantine, the regular at No. 3 singles, sat out to rest a sprained ankle.
“I like the chance to move up,” Zandell said. “You play better competition when you move up.”
Chapman beat Jared Weber 6-3, 6-3 at No. 4 singles.
“The upperclassmen have welcomed me on the team and that has helped,” Chapman said. “They cheer you on, and hitting balls with better players in practice helps your game.”
Zandell defeated David Mirzoyan 6-2, 6-1 at No. 5 singles.
“I was looking forward to coming in here as a freshman,” Zandell said. “I knew the history of winning here. I was excited to be a part of it.”
In the Crusaders’ other wins, No. 2 Galush, a junior, beat 3A state singles semifinalist Bryan Zhang, 6-3, 6-3; No. 3 sophomore Jim Mantyh defeated Ryan Bradley, 6-4, 6-3; and No. 6 junior Kyle Fitzgerald downed Lucas Prata, 6-2, 6-3.
Chapel Hill lost to its conference rival in the state playoffs for the third straight year.
“They’re a tough team to beat,” Chapel Hill coach Neil Alderman said. “But our kids did a fantastic job. They had a great year, and I’m very proud of them.”