06/03/05 — Cliff Wilson helps Gators reach new level

View Archive

Cliff Wilson helps Gators reach new level

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 3, 2005 3:11 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- At first glance, Robert Jones wasn't quite sure if Cliff Wilson -- then a seventh-grader -- would recognize he had some athletic ability.

A scrawny kid who fired jump shot after jump shot on the basketball court, Wilson also showed Jones a characteristic -- determination -- that has eventually defined him as one of Spring Creek's top athletes.

"He had a drive at a young age to succeed," Jones said.

Wilson hasn't stopped.

A three-year letter winner in men's tennis, Wilson achieved a new level season. The top seed for the Gators, he posted a career-best 23 singles victories that included a 14-match win streak. He seized the program's first-ever singles title in Class 1-A Carolina Conference tournament play, and followed that up by claiming the Carolina/Eastern Plains overall championship.

Those accolades would satisfy most players.

Not Wilson.

A soft-spoken individual who has a new-found calm demeanor on the court, Wilson helped Spring Creek advance to the N.C. High School Athletic Association dual-team final six days ago. The Gators lost to perennial power Mount Airy, but Wilson's leadership didn't go unnoticed.

"He's one of those players you don't have to tell what to do," Jones said. "He's out there at practice every day and doesn't make excuses. He's one of the most-disciplined players I've ever coached.

"You don't have to calm him down. He's one of the most level-headed kids I've seen on the court."

Wilson, however, admits that it hasn't been easy improving the mental aspect of his game. As a freshman and sophomore, he played the role of follower behind older brother Grey, who provided most of the leadership.

He had a calming effect on Wilson, who at times would lose his temper after an unforced error or a missed serve.

"He always played with a pretty good attitude and never got mad in the middle of a match like I used to," Cliff said. "I learned from him that in order to win, I needed that kind of mindset."

Wilson's main competition the first half of the season wasn't the opponent across the net. It was the team and the individual dispositions that surfaced on occasion.

Once players finished their respective matches, they either headed to the bus or showed little interest in the remaining matches. Jones called upon Wilson to address that issue with his teammates.

Wilson easily accepted Jones' challenge.

"He told me that we need to be pulling for the other guys and not sitting around, joking about stuff," Wilson said. "We needed to be serious about the other matches going on as well as ours. I would just lead the group over there and cheer for the other players."

The comradery improved and turned the Gators' season around.

After laboring through an unusual slump, Spring Creek found some much-needed momentum with a season-ending victory against Farmville Central. The win set up a "play-in" game against Rosewood with the winner getting the league's No. 2 seed for the dual-team playoffs.

Wilson and his teammates, confident in their ability at that point, knocked off the Eagles. They eliminated nemesis Durham School of the Arts in the postseason and ousted Farmville in the eastern regional championship match.

"We wound up having a pretty good season," said a grinning Wilson.

Amidst the season-ending dual-team run, Wilson experienced success in individual singles play. The No. 1 seed for the C/EPC tournament, he stopped Rosewood's J.P. Cummins and rival Wesley Lovelady.

That set up a match against Greene Central senior Chris Hardy, who had yet to taste defeat. An eager and energetic Wilson constantly attacked Hardy's forehand and prevailed 6-4, 6-3.

"I was ready for that match," Wilson said. "After it was over, I felt kinda high."

Wilson finished second in the eastern regional and dropped an opening-round match in the state tournament. He also amassed a 10-3 record in doubles with partner Ricky Galloway.

The Gators finished 14-8 overall in dual-team play.

"He's pretty much been the heart and soul of the team -- a key part for the last three years," said Jones. "I can hardly say enough good things about him and what he's meant to this school."

"As a seventh-grader, I knew there was some athletic ability there. To see him blossom is a credit to how hard he's worked."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Finalists for men's tennis player of the year were: Jared Stone (Eastern Wayne), Danny Fairchild (C.B. Aycock), Brent Darden (Greene Central), Jared O'dell (North Lenoir) and Wesley Lovelady (Rosewood).