East Chapel Hill’s tennis team practiced as usual Wednesday afternoon.
Nothing unusual about that, except for the fact that the Wildcats had been eliminated from the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A dual-team team tournament on Tuesday. Nonetheless, the entire team showed up at the courts after classes the next day.
Some of the Wildcats needed to be there to train for this weekend’s individual state championships. The other just wanted to be there to support their teammates.
“They all showed up,” East Chapel Hill coach Lindsey Linker said. “That just shows how they feel about each other.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve never had a team come together and bond better than this one.”
Wednesday’s practice turned into a “Senior Day, Redux,” for the team, and Linker was glad to have another opportunity to speak with the upperclassmen who were done with their high school tennis career.
For most of the Wildcats, their season had ended with Tuesday’s loss at No. 1 ranked and undefeated Raleigh Wakefield. The Wolverines swept all six singles matches for a 6-0 win that sent them on to the third round this week.
Wakefield had beaten East Chapel Hill 7-2 earlier in the season with East Chapel Hill winning at Nos. 4 and 6 singles. But two freshmen helped the Wolverines roll. Blake Carter, a state qualifier in singles, moved up to No. 4 to beat Priyan DeSilva 6-0, 6-1, and Nico Grewe, who didn’t play against East Chapel Hill during the regular season, beat Connor Lutz 6-3, 7-6 at No. 6.
“Playing on this team has helped me learn how to get ready for tough matches in tournaments,” Grewe said.
Wakefield’s talent at the top was led by junior Bo Boyden, who on Friday won the 4A state championship with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Logan Weber of Millbrook.
Tuesday, Boyden defeated East Chapel Hill senior Max Smith, who is bound for Kenyon College, 6-0, 6-1. Boyden said he not only one wanted a victory, he wanted to set the tone by winning quickly.
“The team title is more important to me because you share the victories with the other guys,” Boyden said. “I wanted to get my match over with to give the other guys confidence.”
Boyden defeated Smith again, 6-0, 6-1, on Thursday in the NCHSAA individual tournament’s round of 16. East’s doubles entry of Jack Devonport and Connor Lutz lost in the same round, 6-3, 6-3, to Wakefield’s Jenson Martin and Phil Lature, who won the state 4A doubles crown on Friday.
Doubles weren’t necessary Tuesday after Wakefield swept the singles. In Tuesday’s other matches, Jensen defeated Jack Devonport 6-1, 6-4 at No. 2; Lauture defeated Kevin Huang 6-2, 6-3 at No. 3; and No. 5 Andrew Belonga defeated Nicholas Rennie 7-5, 7-5.
Linker said Tuesday’s loss was not unexpected, but perhaps a bit too early for the state’s top two 4A teams. “They have a lot of talent,” she said. “We were just hoping to meet them later – maybe in the semifinals, not the second round.”
Linker was pleased after the dual match to see the East Chapel Hill players walk over, one by one, to shake the hand of Wakefield coach Ken Stewart, offer congratulations and wish the Wolverines good luck in the third round.
Later, Linker took an opportunity during the ride home on the team bus to remind her players. “It’s not the wins or losses that matter so much, but the memories you make that you’ll take with you.”
N&O correspondent Tim Shanahan contributed this report