High school tennis: Mustangs want to finish strong

Published 12:30 am Wednesday, April 10, 2019

By Mike London

GRANITE QUARRY  — East Rowan’s boys tennis program enjoyed a terrific run not long ago, winning the 2013 North Piedmont Conference championship before changing leagues with realignment and ruling the South Piedmont Conference three straight seasons (2014-16).

East was a middle-of-the-pack squad the past two springs (2017 in the SPC, 2018 in the NPC) and has been less than break-even in 2019, but young coach David Andrews is confident the Mustangs aren’t far from being contenders again. Andrews was part of that string of recent championships as a player, so the 2014 East graduate knows what it takes to be successful.

Andrews also played soccer in his days at East. He serves as the assistant coach with the Mustangs’ boys soccer program.

“It’s my first year of teaching, but I wanted to get super-involved in the school’s athletic programs,” Andrews said. “I know we can get East tennis back where we want it to be.”

Andrews’ college education came at UNC Charlotte. Then he came back home to East. He teaches Math 1, so all his students are freshmen. Freshmen guarantee an exciting day.

Andrews is coaching a tennis team almost as young as his math students. East boasts a large 16-man roster, but 10 of the players are freshmen or sophomores.

East has senior captain Nicholas Shoemaker playing No. 1 singles. He’s been in the program for four years and has progressed from being out of the top six all the way to No. 1.

“He holds things together for us,” Andrews said.

The only other senior in the rotation is William McGee, who missed several weeks with an ankle injury. When everyone is healthy, he plays No. 3 singles.

“I think we’ve had our full team for two matches,” Andrews said. “We’ve had some adversity.”

East still hasn’t lost 9-0 to anyone, even NPC  frontrunner South Iredell. The main reason for that has been sophomore Landon Shuping.

When he’s played as East’s No. 2 singles seed, Shuping hasn’t lost. He’s beaten good players, including South Iredell’s Mick Tobin on a third-set tiebreaker. Shuping has won twice against West Rowan standout Landon Butler — easily the first time and via a third-set tiebreaker in the rematch.

In East’s second meeting with South Iredell, Shoemaker wasn’t available, so Shuping moved up to No. 1. He lost, but the second set was a 6-4 battle.

“Landon has been just about automatic, not only at No. 2 singles, but at No. 1 doubles,” Andrews said. “He’s got a lot of will power and he’s been able to power through some tough matches.”

East’s 4, 5, 6 and 7 players provide a great deal of hope for future improvement. Jaden Collins, Garren Hudson and Drew Roane are sophomores, while Gavin McDaniel is a freshman.

Roane has won three of his four matches at No. 6 singles.

“Collins is only in his second year of tennis, so he’s still learning, but he’s learning quickly,” Andrews said. “Hudson has three or four years of experience and has really good strokes. Roane is a very good athlete and is already a standout for East in soccer. McDaniel came to East from Salisbury Academy and has been a surprise. He takes lessons and I expect him to be one of our top players by his junior year.”

Rain has forced numerous postponements and makeups. East is scheduled to play four matches in three days — 40 percent of its NPC schedule  — including a doubleheader at Statesville. The Mustangs are scheduled to take on rival Carson on Wednesday and last-place North Iredell on Thursday.

“It’s a lot of games, but it’s also a great chance for us to end the regular season on a good note,” Andrews said.