High School Sports

Middle Creek boys’ tennis player Nick Stachowiak is team-first, sees big picture

Middle Creek's Nick Stachowiak returns a serve during the boys tennis match against Panther Creek, which took place in Cary on Monday, April 4, 2016.
Middle Creek's Nick Stachowiak returns a serve during the boys tennis match against Panther Creek, which took place in Cary on Monday, April 4, 2016. newsobserver.com

It’s easy to accept Nick Stachowiak’s No. 5 national ranking by TennisRecruiting.net after watching him play. The Duke-bound senior dominates with all-around ability and delivers shots with the velocity of a much larger player.

The surprise is the team the 5-foot-10, 150-pounder represents – Middle Creek is a public high school at the corners of Cary, Apex, Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs. The other surprise is that the Mustangs’ senior plays high school tennis at all.

“It’s very unusual and special to see a top-10 nationally ranked (USTA) junior tennis player so dedicated to his high school team,” said Duke coach Ramsey Smith. “Most of those players are off at an academy or they are working with a private coach. It’s exciting to me he’s coming to play for our team. A lot of the top junior players don’t get that team tennis experience.”

Stachowiak has represented Middle Creek in team tennis and individual singles far beyond on-court success. He is pursuing his third N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A singles title. He will compete in the 4A Mideast Regional final Monday at Broughton High’s courts.

The 4A state championships are Friday and Saturday at Millbrook Exchange Park.

Stachowiak has dominated area tennis since he won his first state title as a freshman in 2013, having never lost a single match, singles or doubles.

He missed his sophomore year with back injury, but he recovered to win his second title as a junior. Back injuries can be tricky, and it has given him appreciation for his final year of high school matches, although most wins are forgone conclusions.

“It’s always special to win that last match your senior year for whatever match it is,” he said.

That level of appreciation extends beyond the small circles of a tennis team. Upon Stachowiak winning his third Southwest Wake Athletic Conference title two weeks ago, he thanked Middle Creek’s teachers and staff members for their support of the tennis program.

“I think people appreciated that,” said Middle Creek coach Jeremy Cunningham. “He’s proud of being a Mustang. His brother (Matt) played here. His sister (Jenna, a sophomore) plays here. It’s part of his family. Nick can see the big picture. A lot of high school kids are only in the moment.”

That sense of family led Stachowiak to stay close to home with his Duke commitment. He travels to USTA events with his father, Scott, while his mother, Lori, a presence at his high school matches, stays behind with the homestead.

“It will be special for her to watch me in college, too,” Stachowiak said.

His appreciation for the moment has kept him grounded. He’s considered “one of the guys.”

Once he wraps up his singles match in rapid fashion – in the SWAC tournament he dropped one game in four matches – he unassumingly watches ongoing matches with friends and teammates. It makes him easy to find because he is not one to turn scarce, but at the same time it makes him hard to find because he blends in.

And it’s not just his teammates that notice.

Opponents in the competitive SWAC also consider him one of their own. Panther Creek’s Sidd Pal made that point clear at the recent SWAC finals while he played for a fifth-place berth in the NCHSAA 4A Mideast Regional. When Pal scored the winning point in a tense tiebreaker, he shouted, “Stachowiak!” He explained Stachowiak helped him improve his serve with a tip.

“I think the kids around here realize he is a once-in-a-generation player as far playing public school tennis,” Cunningham said. “They get a kick out of chance to play against him and to see him play.”

Those chances to watch his special game will continue down the road at Duke.