Enloe’s win over Middle Creek in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys tennis playoffs wasn’t a cakewalk, but the Eagles did get through it.
Needing one doubles win to clinch, the No. 2 team of Ethan Saber and Revanth Bobba topped the Mustangs’ Dean Zoglio and Will Anderson 10-1, sealing the Eagles’ 6-3 team victory and sending them to the second round.
The result improved the East No. 2 seed and Cap-8 Conference champion Eagles, who will host Mideast No. 3 Cardinal Gibbons next week, to 16-0. Middle Creek of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference, seeded Mideast No. 7 in the first state duals appearance in school history, finished 15-5.
Enloe had lost only 13 individual matches all season heading into the contest and has had no team matches closer than 6-3.
But when the Eagles’ top player, junior Michael Ogundele, withdrew early in his No. 1 singles match to give the decision to Middle Creek senior Grant McGrew, things got a little tighter than veteran Enloe coach Steve Spivey might have hoped.
They made up for it at the second through fifth spots where Nathan Griffith, Saber, Bobba and Naveen Reddy all won – the closest Saber’s 6-4, 6-4 win at No. 3 over Grant McGrew’s sophomore brother Owen. Henry Hollyday won for Middle Creek at No. 6.
The McGrews combined for a 10-2 win at No. 1 doubles over Ogundele and the Eagles’ usual No. 7 player Keshav Sridhar, but Enloe’s other doubles teams including Griffith and Reddy at No. 3 each won their matches 10-1.
The Eagles have turned into a dominant force in the Cap-8 in four seasons under Spivey, the former Broughton mentor who led the Caps to 12 boys’ and nine girls’ state 4A titles.
Enloe advanced to the third round last year before being ousted by Panther Creek.
“We need to get in more of our first serves and be more consistent on our returns,” Spivey said. “In singles we need to get (Ogundele’s) shoulder well – I think with a few days’ rest it will be OK. We’ve been solid all year, but there are always areas where you can improve.”
Depth has been a key for the Eagles, as the No. 2 doubles team of junior Ethan Saber and sophomore Revanth Bobba has lost just one doubles match all year while each is 16-0 in singles. No. 5 singles player Naveen Reddy, a freshman, is also 16-0 in singles play.
“We’ve played together in all the big tournaments like USTA and we played together for Enloe last year,” Bobba said. “He has a tendency to slice and I like to hit my forehand, and we like to adapt. He does everything well, but his drop shots are tricky almost impossible to get.”
Saber said he likes to “poach” off Bobba’s serves.
“I know he likes to push the returner back so I can just step onto the court,” Saber said. “We’ve built our chemistry over a couple of years and we really know each other’s tendencies.”
Bobba said consistency will determine how far both the Eagles and he and Saber – who finished second in the conference doubles tournament - can progress in postseason.
“We have to get the ball in,” Bobba said. “We have to focus on getting our serves in. And we need to listen to all the things Coach tells us. He likes to quote (the late Green Bay Packers football coach) Vince Lombardi – like ‘The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
Added Saber, “We’ve got a bunch of solid players who have known each other for a while from playing on the USTA circuit. Our practices are full of action, and we’re always pushing each other.”
Third-year Mustang mentor Jeremy Cunningham, a history teacher who is also the JV basketball coach, said his team reached one of its preseason goals just by qualifying for the state tournament.
“It was kind of a weird match with Enloe,” Cunningham said. “I think our kids are sticking together as a squad and they keep improving. We have a lot of team spirit in an individual sport, and that’s nice to see. It was a goal for a couple years to get into the team playoffs, and we’ve got a lot of young kids coming back. All of our losses were to Panther Creek and Green Hope and Enloe.”
The Mustangs will have six of their top 10 back next season, but the biggest challenge will be to replace senior No. 1 Grant McGrew, who plays doubles with his sophomore brother Owen. Owen was Middle Creek’s No. 3 singles player this season.
“They’ve been playing together a long time,” Cunningham said of the brothers. “Grant is more consistent, and Owen is more of a risk-taker. Grant is more calm and Owen is a little more fiery. That’s a good contrast, and that’s why they’ve been so good all year.”
Grant, who will attend UNC in the fall, said the way the brothers complement each other is important.
“I’m a little more laid back and Owen is more aggressive,” Grant McGrew said. “But that’s good – when one of us is down the other knows how to find a way to pick him back up. I feel like we both have solid volleys and that makes us a decent team.”
Owen McGrew said he’s learned plenty from his older brother and only sibling.
“I’ve been playing with him since I was about five years old, and he’s taught me a lot about tennis and about life,” the sophomore said. “He’s made me a better player and a better person. I think we can beat anybody we play if we play our best. I’m looking forward to our team being able to make runs the next few years, and I’m excited about where we’re going.”