By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 29, 2005 2:09 AM
BURLINGTON -- Western domination.
No eastern men's tennis team has been able to solve the enigma since the N.C. High School Athletic Association split Class 1-A and 2-A into separate dual-team championships. In fact, the western teams have yet to experience defeat in seven ... well ... eight consecutive years since 1998.
Mount Airy swept the singles matches and dealt Spring Creek a 6-0 defeat on the Burlington Tennis Center courts Friday morning. The Bears lost just six games in a match which took just 62 minutes to complete.
Each team was making its first-ever appearance in the state final.
Fourth-year Gators coach Robert Jones spent most of Wednesday and Thursday searching the internet for information on Mount Airy. When he discovered the Bears had lost to R.J. Reynolds, a 4-A semifinalist, he figured his team might face a daunting task.
Jones' concerns grew once he saw Mount Airy's scores in the playoffs. Not a single team forced the Bears to play doubles.
"I didn't tell my kids anything about them," Jones said. "We were overmatched from the first ball to an hour later with the last ball. They were better than we were ... best team we've played all year."
The Bears dropped just six games overall in singles.
Second-seeded Andrew Gitt and sixth-seeded Chase Pomerantz each posted a shutout. Michael Rader and Matt Johnson, seeded No. 3 and 4 respectively, each lost just a single game in straight-set wins.
Top-seeded William John, who successfully defended his individual singles crown last weekend, knocked off the Gators' Cliff Wilson 6-2, 6-0. Fifth-seeded Ryan Niland turned back Phat Tran 6-0, 6-2.
"I told them to keep some balls in play and do the best you can," said Jones. "At this level, that's all you can do. Just go out there, play hard and do what got you here. We didn't play bad, I don't think, in any particular match.
"The guys hit good strokes. We were just overmatched stroke for stroke."
Tran and fellow seniors Ricky Galloway and James Potts played their final match for the Gators. Potts' late-season return helped Spring Creek move into position to earn a playoff spot that wasn't finalized until a "play-in" victory against archrival Rosewood.
The Bears snapped Spring Creek's four-match win streak.
"We used the motto 'one match at a time' and played until we couldn't play any more," said Jones. "It's always a successful season when you go this far."
Mount Airy (21-3) became just the third western team to seize a championship since the NCHSAA split the classifications. Elkin, which lost to the Bears in the regional final, had won four straight and five overall. Henderson captured back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000.
The Bears denied Spring Creek (14-8) a chance to bring a title back to Wayne County. Jones guided his women's team to a runner-up spot in the 2003 finals, while Rosewood's women lost to Hendersonville in the 2002 final. Charles B. Aycock is the last county women's team to snag a state title. The Golden Falcons defeated Hickory in the 3-A final in 1997.
Before the teams met for pre-match introductions, Jones spent some time chatting with Mount Airy coach Scott John. John talked about his team, but mentioned the key to finding consistency and competing on a championship level came from two things -- a middle school program and USTA participation.
Jones agreed with John's summation.
"Somebody, like Greene Central, has got to start a grass-roots effort at the younger ages," said Jones. "We've got to get kids playing USTA at a younger age, and I think that's the big difference. Then, try to get them all at one school, so they can compete with these guys up here.
"That's the only way it can happen."
Maybe then the East can finally break the West's stranglehold on the dual-team championship.
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