It might not have gone exactly the way the Covenant School's boys tennis team had maybe envisioned it, but the Eagles captured the program's sixth straight VISAA Division II championship on Saturday with an 8-1 win over VIC rival North Cross, the same team it defeated last week, 6-3, in the conference title match.
On Saturday, the stakes were the highest and the Eagles came through, even though the match was originally scheduled to be played an hour away and several hours earlier than its eventual start just after 5 p.m. indoors on the Boyd Tinsley Courts at the Boar's Head Sports Club.
The Eagles (19-1) wrapped up the match in singles competition, leading 5-1, but both schools jointly decided to complete doubles play anyway. At that point, Covenant had already snapped a team pic with another state trophy.
"Being able to win it here in Charlottesville was great; being able to win it here at Boar's Head was even better," said Covenant first-year coach and former Farmington pro Patrick Kearns, who explained how several of his players grew up playing on those same courts. "They've played a lot of tournament matches here, we had a great crowd, a lot of friends and family here, and it was just a good day for us."
The match was scheduled for 11 a.m. at Collegiate School outside of Richmond, where Covenant knocked off Highland in the semifinals on Friday. Mother Nature washed away the idea of playing outdoors, and at about 8:30 a.m., the decision was made to move the match to Boar's Head, which was conducting a separate USTA youth tournament but managed to have a few open courts to use.
"Fortunately for us, [Boar's Head management] said that we could use courts late in the afternoon and we just kind of waited around all day," Kearns said.
When things got rolling, the top three singles matches were played first, as the Rose brothers split the first two — junior William Rose fell, 10-6, in a hard-fought affair to Michael Fleming at No. 2 and freshman Matthew Rose cruised past Aiden Davy with his strong serve, 10-3, at No. 3.
The match of the day came at No. 1 singles, where Covenant junior Jack Thomas would give the Eagles the edge they needed. Trailing the Raiders' Joseph Cartledge, 10-9, Thomas rallied to force a tiebreak, where he claimed four of the final five points to win 7-4.
"There's a couple things that I know that Jack is going to do," said Kearns. "I know Jack's going to play as hard as he can, and even though he was down at 10-9, I went back there and talked with him and just tried to settle him down and said let's get some first serves in and let's just play a tough game and let's get in a breaker and let's close it out. And he served a love game at 9-10 to get it to 10-all, which I thought said a lot about Jack at that point of where he was mentally into that game where he was really thinking that he was going to close it out, even though he was behind.
"He played a really good game and then he played a great tiebreaker, and that gave us the momentum at that point really to finish out the match."
In the middle of Thomas' tiebreak (5-3), No. 5 junior Kevin Coleman completed his match against Nishant Jha, 10-0, making Covenant's overall lead 3-1 after Thomas sealed his victory.
Another TCS junior, Sam Adamson, prevailed over Miguel Garcia, 10-6, at No. 4 and it all came down to sophomore Roger Wang at No. 6, who had not dropped a match all season. When Adamson wrapped up his match to make it 4-1, Wang held a 3-0 advantage over North Cross' Zander Theoharis, and the Covenant faithful could begin to taste victory.
Wang went on to win 10-0, and when the winning point was decided, the team rushed over to congratulate him.
"When you have Roger at No. 6, he's not going to lose a lot of matches," said Kearns. "When he's playing No. 6 for you, you feel pretty confident that he's going to be able to close it out pretty quickly. The same thing with Kevin Coleman; he won his match pretty quickly, too. Both those guys down at the bottom are really an important part of our team this year."
In another interesting twist, North Cross was without their head coach for the majority of the match, as Robert Robillard spent the night at a Richmond-area hospital on Friday night after falling ill at the team dinner. Robillard arrived during singles competition Saturday, but was not able to see his Raiders pull out a dramatic, come-from-behind win on this day.
"It was great to have him here, and now he's healthy," Kearns said. "The main thing was we were just glad that he was able to come watch the end of the match."
The future remains bright for the Eagles, who will likely return their entire lineup next season, including four to-be seniors. Kearns is already excited about the possibilities.