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West tennis enjoys bounce-back season

By Bret Strelow
Salisbury Post
MOUNT ULLA ó The number of coaches who have led West Rowan’s boys tennis program since junior Sam Daniel arrived equals the team’s victory total from his first two years of high school.
The Falcons won a combined three matches during Daniel’s freshman and sophomore seasons, but a third coach has helped direct a dramatic turnaround.
John Brown coached Daniel while they were both at China Grove Middle School, and a reunion has coincided with West’s resurgence.
The Falcons, with Daniel occupying the top spot in the lineup, went 5-4 in the NPC this season. They finished fifth in the 10-team league, and the conference tournament begins today in Mooresville.
“I kept telling all the guys who played last year ó a couple of them weren’t wanting to come back ó I told them we’d have a real tennis coach coming,” Daniel said. “He came, and it’s the best record we’ve had for four or five years.”
West endured lengthy struggles after reaching the playoffs in 2003.
Daniel enrolled as a ninth-grader in 2005 and played the following spring for first-year coach Joshua Houghton, a cross country expert who offered his time to make sure the Falcons were able to field a team.
West’s one victory came against an opponent that forfeited because several of its players had mononucleosis, and Daniel said off-the-court issues thinned the roster to a point that the Falcons didn’t even participate in the conference tournament.
Daniel’s father, Steve, coached West last year. It picked up one win via a forfeit and beat league foe West Iredell.
“It was a whole bunch of anxiety because I was worried about what would happen if we didn’t win any and got completely shut out,” Daniel said. “The first two years it was real tough because there was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of guys who said they were going to play never came to play.
“I had to mature fast because I was called a team captain my freshman and sophomore year. When I was a freshman, no one listens to a freshman team captain. As a sophomore, it wasn’t much better. With these guys this year, they realize it’s constructive criticism.”
The Falcons went 3-0 in conference matches against county rivals Carson, East Rowan and South Rowan. They also defeated West Iredell and North Iredell.
The victory against South clinched a winning NPC record.
“I told them I expected a lot more than one conference win,” Brown said, “and I think they expected to do better this year.”
Daniel played No. 1 at times as a freshman, and he has held down that seed for the last two years.
West’s current lineup also features three sophomores (Ricky Meek, Jesse Myers, Landon Locklear) and two freshmen (Joel Brittain, Chris Holmes). Brittain, who filled the No. 2 spot in the order, won his singles match in each of the Falcons’ league victories.
“It’s so cool to come out now,” Daniel said. “It’s been weird because I’ve never really had a team I could depend on. It’s just nice that I can look at these guys and I can know they’ll hold up to it and play serious. It’s nice to have guys you can depend on.”

Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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