High school tennis: Hornets advance in dual team playoffs

Published 9:41 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022

By Mike London

SALISBURY— Kevin Williams recorded his second win of the season against Polk County when Salisbury’s tennis team beat the Wolverines 5-0 on Wednesday in the first round of the 2A dual team state playoffs.

Williams, a senior receiver, was part of Salisbury’s 44-0 football win against Polk last August.

The senior moved to Salisbury from Raleigh this year, so his trying out for the tennis team came as a pleasant surprise.  Many football team members choose track and field as their spring sport, but there isn’t normally any football/tennis crossover.

Williams has a limited tennis background, but he has good hands and a world of athletic ability. He has solidified the No. 5 spot in the lineup for the second-seeeded  Hornets (13-0), and his intangible contributions have gone beyond providing automatic victories in singles and doubles.

“Kevin probably has brought this team together more than anyone,” senior No. 1 player Will Koontz said. “He’s got a great attitude and he’s never not smiling. He picks up everybody. That’s one reason this team is so close-knit.”

Williams posted a 6-3, 6-2 win on Wednesday, and that was one of the more competitive matches. Reid Hlavacek won a 6-3, 6-3 scrap at No. 4 with Eric Avellaneda. Freshman Gray Davis won 6-3, 6-1 at No. 3. Koontz breezed 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1 singles and finished very early, while senior Colin Donaldson prevailed 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2 singles.

Wyatt Goodnight got behind at No. 6, but he was making a comeback when that match was stopped.

Once a team gets to five wins in the playoffs, the road team normally heads for the bus, especially if they’ve got a long drive ahead of them — and 15th-seeded Polk County (10-6) had a lot of miles to travel.

Donaldson was one of the guys who got off to a slow start.

“We’d talked about not taking them lightly because everyone in the tennis playoffs is at least pretty good,” Donaldson said. “But then I came out and underestimated my guy, anyway. I lost the first game, but then I pulled myself together.  I made a few mistakes in the second set, but I had some good plays coming to the net, made some good volleys.”

For Salisbury coach Milt Griffith, this has been an interesting team. It’s not a machine like some previous Salisbury squads.

They also played in a league that didn’t help a lot. With the exception of Lexington, there weren’t a lot of toughening-up experiences in the Central Carolina Conference regular season.

“We know we don’t have the depth we’re used to having here, but it’s been a good season,” Griffith said. “We started slowly today because I think we did underestimate our opponent some, but then we picked it up and we played pretty well. Maybe not our best, but pretty well. These kids are fighters. We’ll take it match by match and win every match that we can.”

Koontz and Donaldson have been good leaders. Koontz, the CCC Tournament individual champion, is still undefeated in singles and doubles this season.

Donaldson dropped one match filling in at No. 1 when Koontz was ill at the start of the season, but Donaldson has been flawless at No. 2 singles, and he and Davis were the CCC doubles champs.

Koontz began the season on the disabled list with mono.

“I slowly got better, but I was really tired for a while,” Koontz said. “Then I pulled a stomach muscle that kept me from serving well, but everything is good now. I’m 100 percent. I feel good, and this has been a fun team to play on.”

As good as he is, Koontz doesn’t plan to play in college unless it’s at the club level. He’s headed to UNC as a regular student.

He and Wheatmore’s UNC-bound No. 1 player Jagur Williams became friends when they squared off in the state individual tournament last season, and they plan to be college roommates.

They’ll stay in Granville Towers, one of Chapel Hill’s landmarks for more than 50 years.

“We played Wheatmore  in a match this year, so I texted Jagur and told him we were going to be playing for the window bed,” Koontz said with a laugh.

Koontz won handily, so, for what it’s worth, he’ll have a good view of the Granville Towers parking lot.

Koontz and the Williams/Hlavacek and Donaldson/Davis doubles teams were individual regional qualifiers. The 2A Midwest Regional to determine the state qualifiers will be played Friday and Saturday at several venues in Salisbury.

The 3A Midwest Regionals will include participants from South Rowan, East Rowan and Carson and will be played at Concord’s Les Myers Park.