Win ‘bittersweet’ as Providence day takes boys tennis crown
When the battle was over, and the Providence Day boys tennis team had slid past rival Charlotte Country Day for the private-school 3A state championship in High Point, Chargers coach Ryan Harper was ecstatic.
He also was a bit sad.
Sure, the Chargers’ 5-4 victory on May 19 was the culmination of an empowering season that saw them hurdle numerous obstacles and emerge with their second N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association championship in six seasons under Harper. But as he watched his players celebrate, particularly the seniors, Harper couldn’t help but think about the other important thing the moment meant.
“I had started with our five seniors when they were in middle school and watched them grow into great young men and players, and now they’re getting ready to go off to college,” Harper said. “This was the last time I would get to coach them, and that was tough to think about.
“This has been a close group of guys. They started playing tournaments together when they were about 10 years old, and they’ve grown together as players (at Providence Day). I’m going to miss them, and that makes winning this championship bittersweet.”
At least Harper and his players will know that they spent their final day on the courts together creating one of their most memorable performances of the season.
Although the Chargers entered the state tournament as the top overall seed – and lost only a combined four games in the first three rounds – Harper knew winning the title hardly was a given. Especially with Country Day on the other end of the bracket. The Bucs, in fact, had already beaten Providence Day this season in a 5-4 affair back on April 3 that was spectacular in its own right, and they likely were one of the few teams in the field that looked forward to a matchup with the Chargers.
The thing is, Providence Day was excited about the meeting, too, and started the matchup in impressive fashion, as the No. 3 doubles team of Chris Paulson and Michael Flores downed Country Day’s Spencer Lackey and Naveen Paul (8-1) to give the Chargers a 1-0 cushion.
Country Day responded in No. 2 doubles, with Bucs William Austin Moore and Will Turner ousting Mitch Brown and Scott Buie (8-2) to even things up.
Then came the No. 1 tandem showdown, which featured Providence Day’s John Cambern and Chris Nash against Allan Jackson and Jacob Brobow – a pair of doubles teams that had gone head-to-head numerous times at both the U.S. Tennis Association and high school levels. This one didn’t disappoint, either.
The crowd monitored nearly every shot during the match, and the excitement was palpable as Jackson and Bobrow used stellar returns and scintillating volleys to move within one game of giving Country Day a 2-1 lead heading into singles play. But Cambern and Nash rallied with awe-inspiring shots of their own to force a tiebreaker, and they went on to take a 9-8 (2) victory that gave the Chargers the 2-1 edge.
“(Cambern and Nash) refused to give up,” Harper said proudly. “They came back because of their hustle – they were getting balls back that you couldn’t believe.
“If we were going to win, I felt we had to get two of the three doubles matches. Our No. 3 team got us started, and it wound up coming down to our No. 1 doubles, and they came through. That gave us that edge. Heading into singles with a 2-1 lead was pretty big. It gave us great momentum.”
Richard Linemanis pushed that advantage to 3-1 by blanking Duncan Rule (6-0, 6-0) at No. 5 singles. Country Day showed its mettle by eventually taking victories at the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 slots, but Providence Day received a major lift from No. 6 player Kiko Mawougbe, who rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the second set to defeat Lackey (6-2, 6-4).
Scott Buie secured the dual-team championship for the Chargers by taking down Jackson (6-4, 6-2) in the final singles match of the day.
“It was pretty intense,” Harper said. “Nothing was secure until we got the final point. It just came down to grit and determination and a couple of balls bouncing (our) way.”
Harper credited his entire team – which included freshmen Alex Omisar and Adhish Kanna, and sophomores Alex Brea and David Sowers – for the Chargers’ 21-5 season record. But the coach admitted that the championship will be especially close to his heart because of the five seniors with whom he’s spent the better part of his tenure at Providence Day cultivating a special bond: Mitch Brown, Cambern, Nash, Paulson and Mawougbe.
“They’ve left a legacy,” Harper said. “They learned from (Providence Day) guys of the past, and they’ve passed that on to our younger players. It’s just been a great group of guys, and I’m really happy for them.”
And, of course, a little sad for himself.