High school boys tennis: Great freshman season for Salisbury’s Jarrell

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 2, 2024

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Salisbury freshman AJ Jarrell had a rude introduction to high school tennis.

His debut at No. 1 singles was a 6-4, 6-0 loss to North Stanly’s Ameno Morgan, an experienced senior who was one of the better 2A players in the state and was recruited by Pfeiffer University.

“That first match humbled me a little bit,” Jarrell said. “And I probably needed to be humbled. That jump from Salisbury Academy to playing for Salisbury High was going to be bigger than I thought.”

Jarrell learned his lessons quickly and learned them well. That would be his only singles loss during the regular season. He was the Central Carolina Conference Player of the Year and he is the Post’s Rowan County Player of the Year.

“It’s been awesome coaching him,” Salisbury coach Roarke Burton said. “I knew from the start he would be competing for the No. 1 spot on our team. He has good strokes, but his biggest asset is his athleticism.”

Jarrell will grow some. He’s on the small side now — at maybe 5-foot-6 and about 140 pounds. But he’s an athlete. He played both ways for Salisbury’s strong jayvee football team as a slot receiver on offense and “Hornet” on defense. The “Hornet” is a combination linebacker/safety. Most of head coach Clayton Trivett’s jayvee football reports included Jarrell’s name. He was frequently making an interception, recovering a fumble or catching a touchdown pass.

“He’s competitive,” Burton said. “He’s going to fight for every point in a tennis match.”

Jarrell is the fifth in a long line of Archibald Leroy Jarrells, which helps explain why he is happy to answer to “AJ.”

“Archibald Leroy Jarrell is kind of a mouthful,” he said.

Tennis is a sport that has come naturally to the Jarrells over the years.

“Tennis is the family game,” Jarrell said. “So I was playing early, when I was 6 or 7 years old. I hit with my dad a lot and I took some lessons from Bobby Cristman”

Christman was a very good player at Salisbury in the 1980s and is still in the Catawba College record books.

Salisbury had its No. 1 player — junior Gray Davis — returning this season, but Jarrell moved in at No. 1, while Davis was a terrific No. 2. They also combined to form a No. 1 doubles team that was one of the best in 2A. They were regional champions and reached the quarterfinals of the individual state tournament. Together, they led the Hornets to the fourth round of the 2A state dual team playoffs.

“Gray and I had played together before at Salisbury Academy when I was in the sixth grade and he was in the eighth,” Jarrell said. “We do make a good doubles team. I can get to a lot of balls at the back, and he’s very good at the net.”

Burton recalls Jarrell’s most impressive point of the season coming on match point against a big-serving duo in the regional doubles final.

“AJ tracked down an impossible drop shot and ended up hitting a winner of his own,” Burton said. “He can do that. Someone can hit a shot that is a clean winner against most players, but AJ will get there.”

Jarrell had only one regret from his first high school season. He missed the rematch with North Stanly in late March. Salisbury had won 7-2 in the season opener with the Comets, but played the second meeting without Jarrell. Everyone had to move up a seed. The Hornets lost 8-1.

“My mom had scheduled a family trip to the Bahamas, had everything paid for,” Jarrell explained. “We had a really good time, but I realize that match probably hurt us in the seeding for the playoffs and I felt bad about it. We were seeded third and had to play at (second-seeded) Pine Lake Prep in the fourth round.”

But it probably wouldn’t have mattered where Salisbury played Pine Lake Prep. Pine Lake Prep beat the Hornets 6-0. Pine Lake Prep didn’t repeat as state champs, but PLP was very strong and finished as regional champs and state runner-up.

“My grandparents have been around tennis a long time, and they said Pine Lake Prep’s No. 1 player was one of the best high school players they’d ever seen,” Jarrell said. “They were really good.”

After missing that North Stanly match, Jarrell moved down to the No. 2 seed for the next match. He won his match against 1A powerhouse Mount Airy in a 5-4 team victory for the Hornets that was one of their best wins of the season.  Jarrell moved back to No. 1 for the next match.

Jarrell realizes he’s still got work to do, but he should get even better as he adds experience and power.

“My strengths right now are a good forehand and being able to move around pretty well out there,” Jarrell said. “But my backhand can get better, and I’ve got to improve my serve. At my height, it’s not easy to get on top of the ball for a strong serve.”

Burton envisions a big future for Jarrell. He sees him refining his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses.

“He worked all season long and it really paid off for him,” Burton said. “He’s coachable. He wants to get better and he’s willing to take advice. He’s a great player who is only going to get better.”


Burton, CCC Player of the Year in 2019, is leaving the Hornets as be will be in medical school this fall at East Tennessee State.

“I thought he was a great coach,” Jarrell said. “He was young enough that he was really good to hit with, but he also could get serious when it was time to win a match.”


All-Rowan County team

East Rowan — Owen Kesler, Blake Mathews, Thomas Stokes

Carson — Karson Sloop, Will Welch, Austin Atwell

West Rowan — Dylan Parrish, Max Brown, Sam Gulledge

South Rowan — Carston Carey, Sawyer Basinger

Salisbury — AJ Jarrell, Gray Davis, Reid Hlavacek, Bryant Davis, Soyer Cornelison

Player of the Year — Jarrell, Salisbury

Coach of the Year — Roarke Burton, Salisbury