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High school tennis: East beats Carson, still hopes to share NPC title

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY — In a family of notable golfers, East Rowan senior Landon Shuping managed to become an outstanding tennis player.

“My mom plays tennis, and I grew up playing with her,” Shuping said. “Basketball has always been the sport I focused on the most, but tennis was something that was fun to do with the family and friends. In the seventh grade at Erwin, I decided to try out for the tennis team.”

The rest is history.

Shuping was an automatic win for East Rowan at No. 5 singles as a freshman. He was 9-0 at No. 2 singles for the Mustangs as a sophomore. East had a rough start to the 2020 COVID season, losing 5-4 to West Rowan and Carson, but Shuping was 3-0 at No. 1 singles when the door was slammed on that season.

Shuping has never taken formal tennis lessons, and he has a couple of tennis-first teammates who have more consistent strokes, but he’s enough of an athlete and competitor that he’s developed into a top-notch player. He brings the same temperament to a tennis court that he does to the basketball gym,  smooth, poised and calm. He rarely makes an unforced error.

“He gets to everything and he does stay very even keel at all times,” East Rowan coach David Andrews said. “He’s a backboard. He’ll get it back at you until you make a mistake.”

On a Tuesday afternoon when Shuping was honored along with fellow seniors Jaden Collins, Drew Roane and Greyson Trexler, he won again.

Shuping is 7-0 this season at No. 1 singles. He and sophomore partner Ryan Brady are 7-0 at No. 1 doubles.

East hasn’t been heard from much in boys tennis since it was a beast in 2016, the Ike Emerson/Chance Brown/Robert Gray days, but Tuesday’s 8-1 win against Carson kept the Mustangs (6-1, 5-1) in contention to share the North Piedmont Conference championship. South Iredell hasn’t lost a match in the conference during the last four years, but East fell 5-4 to South Iredell in Granite Quarry on March 30, and there were some tiebreakers that went the wrong way.

East can share the NPC title if it can find a way to reverse that result on Thursday in Troutman.

“It can be done,” Andrews said. “It’s all the guys have been talking about. They’re excited about the rematch.”

Carson (2-4, 2-3) had 21 players in its boys tennis program a year ago, but now has just five, another win for COVID. That means automatic forfeits for the Cougars at No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles.

“There were several factors for us to get to where we are right now but COVID is the single biggest one,” Carson coach Josh Trexler said. “With virtual school, a lot of students went out and got jobs.”

Trexler is a football assistant, and football just ended for the Cougars last Friday, so he hadn’t actually coached a tennis match before Tuesday’s trip to East.

Carson’s five-man team includes the football squad’s punter and kicker, Will Blumenthal and Andrew Beaver, so those two obviously have had a crazy spring.

“We’re down and we knew East would be good this season,” Trexler said. “East has a lot of experience, and they’re the team that has everyone back. We’ve got seniors, but some of them had never played in matches before this year.”

Carson’s lone success against East was something of a surprise because Carson’s No. 3 Ricky Musselwhite had lost to East’s Collins in a competitive match last week. This time Musselwhite turned the tables 6-3, 6-4 to keep the Cougars from being shut out.

Collins and Musselwhite made for an even matchup on the far court, both tall and lean and proficient at the net.

Musselwhite finished the match on what he described “as the greatest shot of my life.” He was almost parallel to the newly resurfaced blue courts when he flicked a winner over the net.

“I didn’t get a picture of the shot,” Blumenthal quipped. “But it will stay in my mind forever.”

Other than Musselwhite’s heroics, It was all East.

Shuping cruised 6-0, 6-1 against Beaver. Junior Gavin McDaniel, East’s No. 2, won 6-0, 6-2 against Parker Steele, although the match was more competitive than it sounds. That one took a while, although Musselwhite and Collins were on the court the longest. McDaniel is 6-1 this season.

“Gavin was more aggressive today, and that was great to see,” Andrews said. “He won a lot of points at the net.”

East has a very promising sophomore, Brady, who has solid strokes and is unbeaten at No. 4. He won 6-1, 6-4 against Blumenthal.

His sister, Kristen Brady, was a fine player for the Mustangs and his uncle, Brad Brady, played at Catawba.

“We’ve got a tennis family and I decided five or six years ago I wanted to be the best tennis player I could be,” Brady said. “I’ve taken lessons for years. Tennis is my main sport.”

Andrews said Brady’s confidence has soared as wins have accumulated playing No. 1 doubles with Shuping.

“We’ve made a good doubles team,” Brady said. “Landon is very experienced. I learn something from him every match.”

East’s No. 5 player Drew Roane, is best known for soccer. He’s a quick little redhead who makes mistakes, but he also makes some amazing shots.

Roane suffered a serious injury during the recent soccer season — a torn quadriceps muscle — that sidelined him for about a month.

He started playing tennis as a freshman and made serious strides.

“I needed another sport and decided to try tennis,” Roane said. “I really like it. I like the fast pace.”

Roane is 4-1 this season, with the loss coming in a tight one with South Iredell. He’ll be looking to change that outcome on Thursday.

Freshman Owen Kesler is playing No. 6 singles for the Mustangs. He received a forfeit Tuesday, but the Mustangs are hoping he can win on the court Thursday at South Iredell. Kesler wasn’t in the lineup for the first meeting with South Iredell.

East breezed in Tuesday’s two contested doubles matches, with Shuping/Brady topping Beaver/Steele 8-2 and Collins/McDaniel beating Musselwhite/Blumenthal 8-1.

Seniors Shuping, Roane, Collins and Greyson Trexler were honored after the match and saluted for years of being good players as well as good sportsmen.

“We’ve had great senior leadership,” Andrews said. “I’ve never had to work to motivate this group. They want to play and they want to be good.”

The East-Carson rivalry can be intense in any sport, but there was nothing but goodwill on display on Tuesday.

As the vanquished Cougars tapped rackets and shook hands with the victorious Mustangs after the final doubles match, their last words as they left the court were “Beat South Iredell.”

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