Sophomore Kevin Wu played his best tennis when the stakes were high and all eyes were riveted on him Saturday in helping Cary Academy to a 5-4 victory over Charlotte Country Day in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A dual-team tennis tournament.
The Chargers and Country Day were tied 4-4 with one match remaining, Wu’s pairing against the Bucs’ Evan Carter. They split the first two sets and Wu fell behind 2-0 in the tiebreaker before sprinting toward school fame with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory that clinched the trophy.
“Kevin kept his composure and kept battling every point,” said Cary Academy coach Andrew Corcoran. “He turned the match around and just kept getting better and better. I don’t think he missed a shot for about 30 minutes.”
It was about as dramatic as it could be.
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Wu was battling back pain and looked out of the match in the first set.
“It looked bad at first,” said Cary Academy senior Grant Goettel. “Kevin was hurting, but he’s a battler.”
It was a day of comebacks for the Chargers.
Country Day, 16-1, looked in control in doubles before Cary turned a potential 3-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead heading to singles.
The Bucs’ Kavir Kumar and Carter took an 8-1 win over Patrick Mulqueen and Wu at No. 2 and Cary Goettel and Brett Hodgdon fell behind Axel Ryberg and Naveen Paul 3-1 at No. 3. Bucs’ Will Turner and Spencer Lackey had a 6-3 lead on Calvin Ma and Alex Yang at No. 1.
But Goettel and Hodgdon played well at the end for an 8-5 win at No. 3 and Ma and Yang rallied for a 9-7 victory.
“I think we started taking more risks,” Corcoran said. “We were hitting more crossing shots and getting our serves in.”
Goettel said the Bucs had not had to rally often this season, but he said the club is filled with competitors.
“We had some fight in us,” he said.
Cary Academy led 2-1 after doubles and the edge was crucial as Country Day’s Turner, Kumar and Rudberg won at Nos. 1, 2 and 4 singles for a 4-2 edge. The Chargers Zack Skalad nipped Jackson Motchar 7-5, 6-3 at No. 6 and Patrick Mulqueen edged Naveen Paul 6-3, 6-3 at No. 5.
That left it 4-4 with Wu and Cater playing for the title.
“After we saw Country Day destroy Greensboro Day in the semis, we knew it was going to be tough,” Goettel said. “Headed to singles, we figured it would be hard to get a point at No. 1 or No. 2 and that we probably should win at 5 and 6.
“After doubles, we thought we had to win either 3 or 4 and then I got beat at 4. It came down to Kevin.”
Goettel, a four-year letterman, said the team has progressed, losing to Charlotte Providence Day in the semifinals in 2011 and 12 before losing to Providence Day in the title game in 2013.
Four sophomores joined Goettel and junior Saklad in the CA’s starting lineup.
“We should be strong again next year,” Corcordan said.
But there is no need to talk about a string of titles yet. Tennis fates can change quickly. Country Day, for example, this year picked up Kumar and Cater as transfers from Minnesota and Rydberg as a Swedish foreign exchange student.
“They had a tremendous team,” Corcordan said. “I had no idea how good they were until I saw them on Friday.”
A regular-season match between Cary Academy and Country Day had been rained out.
Cary Academy finished 18-1, including a 5-4 setback to Cardinal Gibbons, which won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A title with a 6-0 victory over Marvin Ridge.
“We were this close against Gibbons,” Corcoran said. “We were up 4-2 and just needed one more win. But it was a good match for us. It was non-conference and playing good people is good for you.”