Chapel Hill’s boys tennis team is a match away from the N.C. High School Atheltic Association 3A state championship after delivering a 5-1 road victory on Monday at Rocky Mount in the third round.
Next up for Chapel Hill (15-1) is a Wednesday matchup on the road in Fayetteville versus Terry Sanford, which eliminated Northern Guilford 6-0 to remain undefeated.
The Tigers have dropped just one match the entire campaign, and that was against crosstown rival East Chapel Hill, a 4A East finalist.
Coach Steve Simmons’ club kept rolling Monday by outlasting a young Gryphons’ (13-1) squad that, like Chapel Hill, features just one upperclassmen in its top six.
Rocky Mount junior Tyler Brice, the son of North Carolina Wesleyan College coach Albie Brice, took Mirzoyan to the limit before the Chapel Hill veteran closed out the match 7-6 (5), 5-7, 10-6 in a tie-breaker.
Gryphons’ No. 2 singles player George Shannon gained an early advantage in his match against Patrick Dayton and never relented en route to picking up a 6-3, 6-2 decision.
Rocky Mount 29-year coach Barry Nethercutt had visions that the Gryphons might be able to stretch the competition out to the doubles, but it wasn’t meant to be as the Tigers earned victories from Jerry Cai (No. 3), Paul Tsui (No. 4), Zack Bolzan (No. 5) and Ethan Botts (No. 6) to wrap things up.
“We lost in the first round last season, so we wanted to make a run in the playoffs this time around instead of just going out early,” said Nethercutt, who guided his Gryphons to their first Big East Conference crown since 2010. “Going to the third round and playing a good Chapel Hill team was a great accomplishment. Chapel Hill is very solid, and we have nothing to hang out heads about.”
Even though this is his first campaign as a coach on the high school level, Simmons is no stranger to competitive tennis – he spent the previous 11 years as the head coach at McDougle Middle School in Chapel Hill.
Simmons saw some of his players move on to play for the Tigers, and he developed a relationship with then-Chapel Hill skipper Neil Alderman.
During the girls season last fall, Simmons attended a Chapel Hill match and struck up a conversation with Alderman, who told Simmons he was thinking about stepping down from the boys program to spend more time with his family.
“We were at the match and Neil pulled me aside,” Simmons said. “He told me I should pursue (the boys job) and arranged a meeting with us and (Chapel Hill athletic director Tim Bennett). During the meeting, Neil stood up and said ‘This is the guy (for the job)!’ I said ‘Yes, it is!’ It’s been a great success so far. We dominated our conference (Big 8) and treated every match like it was important. We also received the sportsmanship award for our conference, which says that we not only won, but won with class.”