Athletes often talk about leaving footprints, but senior Graham Duncan has been trying to walk in Wesley Barrett’s footsteps. Such is Duncan’s respect for his former Apex teammate.
Two years ago, Barrett, now playing his sophomore season at Old Dominion University, won the Tri-Nine Conference boys singles title and followed up with an NCHSAA 4A state championship. Barrett’s victim in the 2010 Tri-Nine final was Duncan, then an Apex sophomore.
The path to a state title left an impression on Duncan, even though he took his junior year off from high school tennis in 2011 to focus on earning a college scholarship to Wofford College.
Duncan’s return to Apex’s lineup now includes the 2012 Tri-Nine singles title as he defeated Panther Creek senior Eric Nagy 6-3, 6-2 Wednesday at the Cary Tennis Center.
“This means a lot to me,” Duncan said. “The last time I was in the conference finals I lost (6-3, 6-3 to Barrett). It’s good to come back and follow his footsteps. Next I want to play well in the regionals and state.”
The Tri-Nine doubles bracket was an all-Green Hope final as Matt Hammond and Kyle Burns won their second straight Tri-Nine title by defeating Green Hope teammates Michael Neighbors and Mark Wicklegren 6-3, 6-4. All four Falcons are juniors.
“We were hoping we could make it two in a row and now we’re looking forward to next year and trying to get a triple crown,” said Burns.
In all, Duncan will lead six Apex players in singles and doubles into the 4A Regionals Friday and Saturday at Millbrook Exchange Park in Raleigh.
In the Tri-Nine tournament, the four semifinalists earn automatic berths and two more at-large berths are awarded to the winners of play-in matches.
In the singles semifinals, Duncan defeated Green Hope’s Kelly Patch 6-2, 6-2 and Nagy edged Middle Creek’s Matt Stachowiak 6-2, 2-6, 10-8.
The two singles play-in berths were claimed by Apex’s Shivam Desai and Athens Drive’s Kelvin Menezes.
In the doubles semifinals, Hammond and Burns defeated Holly Springs’ Matt James and Chase Andries 6-3, 6-2. Neighbors and Wicklegren beat Middle Creek’s Justin Panepinto and Mihnea Tomos 6-1, 6-4.
The other four Apex players to advance to the regionals were a pair of double teams that won play-in matches. Taylor Scheiss and Erik Aldareguia won the fifth berth and Cole Bowser and Will Ostrom the sixth.
Duncan went 16-1 in Tri-Nine play this year – 12-1 in the regular season and 4-0 in the tournament. He was 3-0 against Nagy with his lone loss a split of regular-season matches with Stachowiak.
“(North Carolina tennis) is a good challenge and Graham is a very good player,” said Nagy, a transfer from San Antonio. “I’d say Texas is deeper, but the top players here are very good.”
Stachowiak and Nagy split their regular-season matches before Nagy edged him in the semifinals. Stachowiak was the Tri-Nine runner-up last year when he lost 6-2, 6-2 in the final to Athens Drive’s Roman Cacha, who now plays as a freshman at West Point.