New top dogs: Southern Nash tennis storms Big East with strong season
By PATRICK MASON
Sunday, April 14, 2019
Elaina Ingram was more impressed than surprised.
The Northern Nash boys’ tennis coach marveled at the athleticism of the Southern Nash lineup after the teams met on March 14. The Firebirds won by making it tough for their opponent to score points.
“I call them the backstops. They just seem to get to everything,” Ingram said of the Southern Nash lineup. “They have a team full of good athletes and they don’t let many balls get by.”
A week later, Rocky Mount High, the preseason conference favorite and off to a 2-0 start in Big East Conference matches, lost to the Firebirds on March 21. The Gryphons, too, discovered that this Southern Nash team was talented.
RMH was used to dominating the conference with back-to-back seasons of undefeated league records, and it was working on a third before running into the Firebirds.
Yet on Wednesday, the Gryphons gained back traction with a 5-4 win over Southern Nash to avoid a season sweep. The Firebirds used an 8-1 win at Franklinton on Thursday to get back on track and finish the regular season with a 15-1 record and a 9-1 mark in conference.
But there’s no denying that Southern Nash turned the conference upside down this season. The Firebirds had finished in third place in every season since a second-place finish in 2015, before being able to put it all together in 2019.
Additions to the singles lineup of David Vasquez (No. 4) and Adolfo Gonzalez (No. 5) have given the Firebirds depth across their lineup. Vasquez and Gonzalez both played exhibition matches last season, and after working on their game in the offseason have turned into reliable players at the varsity level.
Vasquez had a 14-1 record this season, while Gonzalez was 10-4. Hector Perez went 13-2 at No. 3 singles, and No. 6 player Michael Hernandez went a perfect 14-0. At the top of the lineup, Parker Strickland is a clam, confident player at No. 1, and Dylan Alligood — who plays at No. 2 — is also undefeated in doubles with Hernandez.
“I think for us our doubles have been really good,” Vasquez said. “That’s where we have been winning a lot.”
Added Strickland: “We just keep our heads on straight and keep focused. We’ve been pretty consistent as a team. Our record, it hits you after the fact, but it’s not something we think about on a day-to-day. You go out and focus on your match.”
Perez, Gonzalez and Vasquez all play soccer, and tennis coach Brady Joyner believes that has played a part in their success on the court. After all, the athleticism is game changing and the benefits have already shown themselves to be tough to contend with.
Joyner said he worked on a drill with his team early this season with the goal of expanding their range. During the drill, even he was surprised that his players got to some of the balls, and hoped that they, too, noticed they were getting to balls many players would not.
“You can look at them and tell that they’re athletes,” Joyner said. “That thing I was doing where I was hitting the ball and making them run to get it, I told them that they can get to things that you don’t even believe you can get sometimes.
“I hope that made that point that day, because they do get some things where I’m going, ‘Wow, how in the world did he get that.’”