In each of the past two seasons, the Knightdale boys’ tennis squad has finished in a tie in the Greater Neuse River 4A standings.
But while that tie was for first place in the 2012 season, the Knights tied for last place in 2013. That’s made for prominent highs and lows in Martin Faison’s first two seasons as head coach. He’s now in search of some stability and a rebound from last season’s finish as he enters his third year leading the team.
“I lost everything from my first year to my second year,” Faison said. “This year, I’m returning four players out of my top six, and we’re looking to improve upon our results from last year.”
The Knights lacked match play experience last season. This year will be different, as Faison counts on his more seasoned athletes to mend Knightdale’s damaged reputation in the conference.
“I’m relying on them quite a bit,” he said. “This year, I feel as though they’ll be better prepared to face what we have to in the conference.”
Faison is banking on preparation, but his squad hasn’t had much of it early on. The winter storms of February have stunted all spring sports programs in the Triangle area. The Knights coach noted that practice time has been limited.
In the meantime, Knightdale opened the season with a pair of loses. First, West Johnston made quick work of the Knights in a 9-0 brooming. Then Heritage rolled to a 7-2 triumph.
It’s early, but the Knights already need a lift.
“I’m not quite at full strength yet,” Faison said on Tuesday. “This week, I’m supposed to get one of my guys (sophomore Andre Willis) back from basketball. With the weather and everything, it hasn’t really given us the opportunity to put it all together, but we’re working on it.”
Willis practiced with the varsity basketball team through its state playoff run and hadn’t made it to a single tennis practice as of Tuesday. He’s just one player, but his return is expected to shake up both the Knights’ singles and doubles lineups.
“I’m definitely going to use (Willis) at No. 1 or No. 2 doubles,” said Faison.
The coach indicated time may be all the Knights need – time to practice and improve, time to get back to winning.
“As far as practice is concerned, I don’t have a lot of guys who play year-round,” Faison said. “So, when it comes time to practice for the season, it’s imperative that we have as much time as we can get.”
After the 0-2 start, Faison insisted his team’s goal remained the same.
“My goal will always be to get the most out of my guys,” Faison said. “My job is to maximize the talent we have on our team.”
His 2014 squad is without a single senior with playing experience, making next season the more likely one for Knightdale to return to the top of the conference.
But Faison isn’t looking that far down the road. He knows that if he loses sight of where the Knights are today, they’ll miss out on the opportunity to progress.
“We’re looking to compete as hard as we can each and every match,” he said.
It’s a long climb back to the top but the Knights coach insists on making it there, even if it’s one step at a time.