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Salisbury, West hitting road to open boys tennis playoffs

By Bret Strelow
bstrelow@salisburypost.com
Salisbury and West Rowan compete in different classifications, but they’ll both travel to Cleveland County today to face a Southwestern Conference team in the first round of the boys tennis playoffs.
Salisbury will play at Shelby, champion of the 2A/3A SWC with a 10-1 overall record and 8-0 league mark. The Hornets (12-3, 10-2 CCC) were part of a three-way tie for first place in their 2A conference and received its No. 2 seed in a blind drawing.
West Rowan (12-3, 7-2 NPC) claimed third in its league and earned one of two wild-card berths in the Western half of the 3A bracket. The Falcons will square off against Kings Mountain, the top 3A finisher in the SWC. The Mountaineers (7-7, 5-3) lost 7-2 against Shelby in early April.West is making its first playoff appearance since 2003.
“We’ve been doing really well, and I’m happy with all the guys,” second-year coach John Brown said. “We’ve played hard and won a lot of close matches. Some easily could have gone the other way, but they showed a lot of heart.”
The Falcons are accustomed to hitting the road ó they didn’t play a home match this season because new courts at the school are under construction.
Brown’s team practiced at nearby West Middle or Salisbury’s City Park, which is 12 miles away.
“Playing away has not been too bad,” Brown said. “The guys didn’t seem to mind. They enjoyed the bus rides, getting time to goof around, enjoyed coming back and getting something to eat.
“I thought it might be worse, but the only thing that’s been a hassle is practice. If there’s any glitch in the schedule, if it rains, sometimes it’s hard. We’d meet at school and run in the auditorium, or sometimes I’d attach a net in the gym. I was worried that practicing off campus I’d have some no-shows, but that was hardly ever a problem.”
The Falcons, led this year by regional qualifier Jesse Myers, won a combined three matches in 2006 and 2007 before climbing to fifth in the 10-team NPC last season.
Myers, Joel Brittain, Sam Daniel, Ricky Meek, Chris Holmes and Landon Locklear helped West end the program’s postseason drought, but a week of waiting wasn’t easy. Only the league’s top two teams were guaranteed a berth, and the state released its playoff brackets Monday.
“Guys were practicing, and I told them they weren’t practicing for nothing ó regardless, it’ll help you get better for the future,” Brown said. “The hardest part was not knowing and not being able to tell them. I think they thought I just wouldn’t tell them.”
Any drama surrounding Salisbury’s playoff status disappeared last Monday, when the drawing revealed that the Hornets and Lexington (No. 1) had received the CCC’s automatic spots. Ledford made it as a wild card.
The Hornets, with four new starters joining Steven Page and Austin Flynn in the lineup, fell 5-4 at home to Lexington before edging Ledford. They lost 5-4 at Ledford on April 15 and pulled out a 5-4 decision at Lexington six days later.
“Before we started, we knew in order to be atop the conference we’d have to beat Ledford and Lexington,” Flynn said. “At first the new guys seemed a little nervous, but they kept their heads up and never gave up. They kept fighting back and played hard, and all of them have gotten better. It really showed in that Lexington match.”
Freshman Alan Lebowitz, the team’s No. 3 seed, is 15-0 in singles. The doubles pairing of Seth Gentry-Wes McNeely clinched the victory against Lexington, and Alex Weant has also been solid at the bottom half of the lineup.
Flynn (12-1) didn’t lose a singles match in conference play, and Page (12-3) has excelled at the top of the order after playing No. 3 as a freshman.
Page was the CCC tournament runner-up, and champion Landon Rogers of Ledford dropped both regular-season meetings with the Salisbury sophomore. Rogers hasn’t lost a set to anyone else.
“With as many guys as we lost to graduation, to be able to share a conference championship, it speaks volumes to the work ethic of everybody,” Salisbury coach Chris Myers said.

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