High school boys tennis: Sophomore Davis led inexperienced Hornets

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 1, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Salisbury’s Gray Davis had to be the No. 1 seed as a sophomore, but he led the tennis team to another Central Carolina Conference championship .

“We had seniors like Will Koontz and Colin Donaldson last year and I was able to learn a lot from them,” Davis said. “Moving up from No. 3 (where he was undefeated as a freshman in 2022) to No. 1 seed this year was a jump and there was an adjustment period for me, but I stayed positive and gradually got more comfortable with it.”

Davis is being modest. He did well enough to win all of his regular-season singles matches. He and partner Reid Hlavacek also could be counted on to win at No. 1 doubles.

Davis and Hlavacek were the conference doubles champions. Davis was voted Central Carolina Conference Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and he’s also the Post’s Rowan County Player of the Year.

“Gray had a strong sophomore season,” Salisbury coach Milt Griffith said. “He’s an excellent tennis player, but what really stands about him he’s a great student with an exceptional attitude. He’s coachable and he cares about his team and his teammates more than about himself. We asked a lot of him, and he was a good leader for a young player.”

Davis, 6-f00t-1 and still growing, swims in the winter. He was CCC champion in the 100 freestyle and second in the 200. He was Salisbury’s leading scorer in the Rowan County Championships.

He remembers trying tennis for the first time when he attended a camp as a second-grader.

“I was in seventh or eighth grade when I started to get serious about tennis,” Davis said. “A lot of the game is mental and one of my strengths is I can stay positive mentally in situations when some players might get frustrated. There are going to be ups and downs in every match, but I try hard to stay consistent.”

Griffith agrees that consistency, especially with his strong serve, is Davis’ top asset, and he also throws non-stop hustle into the conversation.

“Gray doesn’t make many mistakes, he goes after everything, and he can be a backboard who just keep sending it back at you until he sees a chance to make his move,” Griffith said.

Most Salisbury tennis seasons last longer than this one did. The Hornets normally compete for several rounds in the playoffs and the Hornets normally are represented in the 2A state tournament.

This time the Hornets lost to Surry Central at home in the first round of the dual team playoffs and the Davis/Hlavacek doubles team was knocked off in the individual regional played in Salisbury before the Hornet duo qualified to advance to the state level.

Davis had made the state tournament as a freshman, playing doubles with Donaldson.

“We were just really young this year (one senior in the top six) and our inexperience made the difference in that dual team match against Surry Central,” Griffith said. “As far as the individual regional, that was just one of those things. It was a stacked regional, especially stacked in doubles, and we got a tough draw. Our guys lost, but setbacks are part of being an athlete.  You don’t get mad and frustrated, you handle it. Our guys handled the disappointment well, I thought, and they’ll learn from the experience.”

Davis understands that he’s not yet where he wants to be yet. He’ll be taking lessons this summer, playing lots of matches and continuing to grow as a player and leader.

“We’ve got a lot of good guys coming back and we’ve got some good ones coming in like A.J. Jarrell,” Davis said.  “We’ll be very good next season.”

At the team dinner that officially closed the books on this season, the Hornets put 2023 in the rear view mirror and started thinking about bigger and better things in the future.

“The guys weren’t discouraged at all about how this season ended,” Griffith said. “After the dinner, they were right back out there playing tennis.”


The other players considered for Rowan County Player of the Year were East Rowan senior Ryan Brady, who qualified for the 3A state tournament in doubles with partner Owen Kesler, and Carson sophomore Karson Sloop, who beat Brady twice in singles matches. Sloop and Brady didn’t have exciting won-lost records, but the South Piedmont Conference was strong at the top. Sloop and a really young Carson team should have a bright future. Brady and Sloop were the only Rowan players who made All-SPC.


All-Rowan County

Coach of the Year — Milt Griffith, Salisbury

Salisbury — Sophomore Gray Davis,  senior Wyatt Goodnight and juniors Reid Hlavacek, Soyer Cornelison and Marcus Everson had stellar records, made All-Central Carolina Conference and were regional qualifiers.  Freshman Bryant Davis (Gray’s brother) juggled golf with tennis and missed tennis on days when golf and tennis conflicted, but the stat sheet for Salisbury’s No. 4 guy (8-1  singles, 6-0 doubles) was hard to argue with.

East —Senior Ryan Brady and junior Owen Kesler had a doubles run at the end of the season that included third place in the SPC tournament and runner-up in the 3A Midwest Regional. Kesler was 11-6 at No. 2 singles. Sophomore Blake Mathews had a winning record for a 10-7 team at No. 3 singles.

Carson — Sophomore Karson Sloop was 7-6 at No. 1 singles, impressive work in the SPC. Freshmen Austin Atwell and Will Welch formed a successful doubles team that qualified for the regional.

West — Sophomore Max Brown played No. 1 for the Falcons. Senior Abe Davis, usually West’s No. 2, was a regional singles qualifier.

North — Junior Daniel Montes won the singles championship in the 1A portion of the 1A/2A Central Carolina Conference Tournament, while teammate Chynue Vang was runner-up.

South —   Junior Carston Carey played No. 1 singles.