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High school tennis: West Rowan aiming for first playoff berth in 8 years

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan played its two most important matches of the boys tennis season back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday.

Monday’s 6-3 home win in showdown against Carson put the Falcons (7-3, 5-2) in great position to finish in second place in the North Piedmont Conference. Two teams in the six-team league get automatic berths in the 3A playoffs.

“That’s the way we built it up to our guys, that we were playing Carson for a playoff spot,” West coach Joe Robinson said.

West still has to go to Carson on April 9. If the Cougars are able to take that one, they could still tie for second with the Falcons.

On Tuesday, West hosted South Iredell, the NPC’s defending champ and front-runner. The Falcons had designs on moving into a tie for first place with the Vikings. West played its best match of the season but still lost, 5-4.

“It was the closest match I’ve ever coached in,” Robinson said.

Four singles matches went to third-set tiebreakers. West split those four struggles and went to doubles down 4-2. West got singles wins from Trevor Mervine and Steve Wilmot. Alex Keadle/Layton Butler and Wilmot/Mervine won their doubles matches.

West already had lost at South Iredell, 6-3, on March 14. The Vikings (12-0, 6-0), who rolled 9-0 in their first meeting with Carson, are almost a lock to run the table in the league now.

Robinson is a young coach who may end up being a head football coach someday. He was a quarterback at Mooresville High and scored a touchdown against West Rowan in the West-Mooresville game that kicked off the 2012 season. He graduated in 2013.

Robinson’s college education came at UNC Wilmington. He helped coach football as a volunteer assistant at Hoggard High while he was still a college student. Not long after he graduated from UNC Wilmington, he was hired by West Rowan as a P.E. teacher and football assistant coach (receivers) for the 2017-18 school year.

He also accepted the assignment of coaching West’s boys tennis team, although he had a limited background with the sport.

“I’ve done a lot of research on tennis since then, and I’ve picked up things from talking to other coaches,” Robinson said. “Our girls tennis coach, John Brown, has been the biggest help.”

West went 6-8 in Robinson’s first season tennis and broke even at 5-5 in the NPC to tie East Rowan for third place behind South Iredell and Carson.

The Falcons have made strides this spring. The only losses have been the two to South Iredell and a non-conference match with Davie County, a very strong 4A club.

“Depth is our strength,” Robinson said. “Our 4 has beaten our 1 this year. There’s not a big difference in our top four.”

The anchor for the Falcons is all-county junior Kevin Sullivan, who wins the majority of his matches at No. 1. He played No. 2 last season.

Butler, a bouncy 6-foot-2 senior who made an impact for West on the basketball court, is another experienced all-county player. He gets his share of wins at No. 2 singles. He dominated as the Falcons’ No. 3 seed last spring.

West’s improvement as a team owes a lot to the growth of juniors Mervine and Wilmot. They weren’t factors last season, but they’ve been a huge part of the Falcons’ success. Mervine has played singles matches at 3, 4 and 5. Wilmot, who usually plays No. 6, made a decision to focus on tennis, rather than baseball.

“They’re two of the most improved players in the conference,” Robinson said.

West’s fortunes also took a jump with the comeback of Keadle, a senior, from a serious back injury. He’s been a steady winner at No. 5 singles, and  Keadle and Butler have been stellar as the No. 2 doubles team.

T.J. Smith has given the team senior leadership and has won matches at No. 3 and No. 4 singles.

“Our top six are all juniors and seniors, so I”m going to be doing some recruiting in the halls for next year,” Robinson said.

West’s hopes of sharing the NPC championship ended on Tuesday, but there’s still a lot to play for, including the program’s first appearance in the dual team state playoffs since 2011.

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