News-Argus Boys Tennis Players of the Year -- Brent Darden and Andrew Hulbert
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 10, 2004 1:57 PM
SNOW HILL -- One last chance.
Moments after losing to Shelby's Jay Chitty and Alex Pearson in the 2003 Class 2-A state doubles final, Andrew Hulbert and Brent Darden vowed to return to the championship match.
The Greene Central duo used summer "pick-up" matches to improve their skills and their communication on the court. Regular-season matches provided extra practice time as the two gained confidence in each other.
"We knew Shelby's team was going to be out and it made us want it more," Darden said. "We came in thinking we were the favorites."
They weren't wrong.
Hulbert and Darden blitzed the competition and successfully defended their N.C. High School Athletic Association eastern regional title. They drew the No. 1 seed for the two-day state tournament.
It was their turn.
"We felt this was going to be the year," Hulbert said. "If it was ever going to happen, this is going to be it. We got into the mindset that we have to work for it and that it's really possible."
They worked for it in domination fashion.
Hulbert and Darden didn't lose a set on the way to seizing the gold medal and blistered Charlotte Catholic's freshmen tandem of Paul Bartholomy and Brandon Lamoreaux in the title match. They set a school record for doubles wins (37) and emerged the first doubles team in program history -- boys or girls -- to conclude the season unbeaten (37-0).
Even more remarkable is that Hulbert and Darden, a second-year tandem, lost just one match during their high school career. For their astounding performance, Hulbert and Darden will share the 2004 News-Argus tennis players of the year award.
"The way that Brent and Andrew played in the state tournament blew my mind," Rams coach Brad Sauls said. "I thought they would have played nervous, but they played nearly flawless tennis against some superb competition. They really peaked for the tournament.
"The state championship has been a goal of Andrew's ever since he was a freshman and lost in the first round of the state tournament to the eventual champions. To see them pull it off was very emotional for me as a coach. It was so gratifying to see these two young men reach their goal.
Hulbert and Darden started their doubles careers with different partners. Hulbert spent time with Lee Spivey and Chris Heath, while Darden was often paired with left-hander Lin Hall. The two gained valuable knowledge about their own style of play and learned how to hide their weaknesses.
Their contrasting styles made Hulbert and Darden a formidable foe.
Darden's huge kick serve and his calm demeanor on the court proved crucial during the state-title run. Meanwhile, Hulbert played the aggressor role and utilized his two strengths -- a booming serve and his quick footwork. Hulbert could put away an overhead from any area of the court and played with emotion on every point.
"Their styles just clicked," Sauls said.
Their enthusiasm and desire to succeed pushed Hulbert and Darden to their sport's ultimate position -- state champion. What makes the feat even more phenomenal is that the two players never benefited from private lessons. They learned from playing matches in the Greene County Tennis Association and practicing with players in the community.
Hulbert also leaves with three eastern regional dual-team titles and three state dual-team runner-up plaques on his resume. The Rams won nearly 100 matches with Hulbert in the lineup. He graduated as the valedictorian and received the John Motley Morehead Scholarship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Darden has one more year left and is eager to defend his title with another partner.
"Andrew has certainly left his mark on Greene Central, both athletically and academically," Sauls said. "I am proud to have taught and coached him. It was truly an honor.
"Brent can hopefully get back on the court after a short break and improve his game. He could be a contender for another state title in singles or doubles next year if he puts in the work."
Darden gets one more chance.
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