The Bears found themselves in a brawl for the 1A state team dual tennis title Saturday morning and they finally prevailed, defeating Raleigh Charter 5-4 in an epic match.
“It’s the way you want to win a state championship,” Bear’s coach Frank Mayberry said Saturday afternoon. “It was a tight match, there were a lot of momentum swings, but just like all year long, the guys’ experience, ability and determination made all the difference.”
Raleigh Charter, the eastern regional winner, did not perform well enough to finish the regular season atop their conference but turned up the heat during the state tournament behind the number one seeded, East Carolina-bound, John Schmitt.
Mayberry said Schmitt is undoubtedly among the elite tennis prospects in North Carolina.
“I would have to say that in all of North Carolina high school tennis you could rank him in the top five,” he said. “He will be playing Division I tennis at ECU next year. Nick played solid against him but this is just a really strong kid.”
Schmitt gave the Bear’s fits Saturday, defeating number-one singles seed Nick John and teaming with teammate Alex Donham to take down the recently crowned NCHSAA 1A state champion doubles team of John and Brooks Mayberry.
But the Bears did not enter the match with a sparkling 15-1 record behind the play of just their top seeds and it showed Saturday, as Eric Belton and Alex Ilyasov, respectively the Bear’s fifth and sixth seeded singles player, finished as the only two Mount Airy players who escaped the day undefeated in their matches.
Early in the day the Bears looked to be in trouble, losing three of their top four singles matches.
But as Brooks Mayberry and Alex Ilyasov entered third-set tiebreakers in their respective matches with the Bears facing a possible singles sweep, both seniors dug deep to pull out wins and keep their team title hopes alive.
“There was a point we were looking at possibly being eliminated in singles,” Frank Mayberry said. “We had two matches left on the court and we were down 3-1, but Brooks and Alex both came through with key third set tie breaks. They just gutted it out and came away with big wins. If we were down 4-2 it would have been tough, but at 3-3 we could manage, so those were really important wins.”
Mayberry defeated Chris Laflaam 3-6, 7-5, 10-7, while Ilyasov took down Raleigh Charter’s Jack Blondin 7-6, 5-7, 12-10 in a marathon match.
The tension didn’t subside heading into doubles play, as the Mount Airy duo of Matt Kessler and Eric Belton fought back from a 0-3 deficit early in their match to pull out a crucial 10-7 win, effectively winning the state title for the Bears.
The team of Ilyasov and Nathan Hager cruised to a 10-6 win in their doubles match, with the number-one seeded duo of Nick John and Brooks Mayberry losing to Raleigh Charter’s Schmitt and Donham 10-6.
But the loss didn’t matter, as the Bears clinched the title and stormed the court, taking home the well deserved trophy.
Ilyasov was voted the finals Most Valuable Player for his performance Saturday, due largely to his performance under pressure.
Frank Mayberry said he could not be happier with Saturday’s outcome and his team’s ability to take on the tough task of pulling out what amounted to a come-from-behind victory.
“I am really proud of them,” he said. “The way they stepped up, they deserve all the credit for this championship. We had two really tight matches in the semifinals and the finals and some key players came through each time to insure the win, so they deserve the credit.”
Mount Airy 5,
Raleigh Charter 4
John Schmitt (RC) d. Nick John (MA) 6-3, 6-2
Brooks Mayberry (MA) d. Chris Laflaam (RC) 3-6, 7-5, 10-7
Drew Chandler (RC) d. Chance Hall (MA) 6-3, 6-1
Jarel Morris (RC) d. Matt Kessler (MA) 7-5, 6-4
Eric Belton (MA) d. Alex Donham (RC) 6-2, 6-1
Alex Ilyasov (MA) d. Jack Blondin (RC) 7-6, 5-7, 12-10
John Schmitt/Alex Donham (RC) d. Nick John/Brooks Mayberry (MA) 10-6
Matt Kessler/Eric Belton (MA) d. Drew Chandler/Jeral Morris (RC) 10-7
Ilyasov/Hager (MA) d. Laflaam/Blondin (RC) 10-6