05/22/09 — No. 3-ranked Firebirds successfully defend title

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No. 3-ranked Firebirds successfully defend title

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 22, 2009 1:46 PM

STANHOPE -- Charles B. Aycock can't seem to solve the Southern Nash enigma.

Is it confidence?

Is it athletes?

Or is it mental toughness?

The No. 3-ranked Firebirds successfully defended their eastern regional dual-team championship with a 5-2 victory over the No. 7-ranked Golden Falcons on a hot Thursday afternoon. Unbeaten in 20 outings this season, Southern Nash faces No. 2-ranked Lake Norman for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A state crown Saturday.

"I thought they fought hard, but we were sluggish at the beginning and they came out fired up," said Aycock head coach Kevin Coghill. "They had tons of fans screaming for them the whole time. They definitely had homecourt advantage."

The Firebirds quickly earned service breaks on courts three through six, and secured two singles points within an hour. Fourth-seeded Adam Glover turned back Aycock's Dylan Quinn 6-1, 6-3, while teammate Isaac Arnold upended Ben Nichols 6-1, 6-2.

"Their three and four singles players played just fantastic," said Coghill.

Southern Nash seized a third singles point when sixth-seeded Clay Matthews stopped Bradley Wilson 6-2, 6-4. A left-hander, Wilson made his second straight appearance in the Golden Falcons' starting lineup.

The remaining players showed signs of fatigue as the mercury rose in the thermometer and a gentle breeze faded away. Fans scrambled for prime shady spots or stood under umbrellas to block the sun as the last three singles matches approached the two-hour mark.

Firebird senior Julian Paulsen fended off two match points before hitting a forehand return long against Blake Vail, who triumphed 6-2, 6-4. It was Vail's 85th victory of his career and second over Paulsen this season.

First-year starter Rawad Alawar, one of two Aycock seniors playing his final match, rallied for a 2-6, 6-2, 13-10 victory over Will Matthews. Alawar compiled a 12-0 record in singles play this season.

"Two years ago, I had to make the decision to either cut or keep him on the team, and I decided to keep him," said Coghill. "That's one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. He's a hard worker and good athlete."

Senior Jordan Hagler gave Southern Nash a 4-2 advantage heading into doubles. Aycock junior Addison Westbrook retired due to cramping from the heat in the second set.

Coghill had massaged Westbrook's lower left leg after the opening game of the second set. Westbrook gulped down some fluids, but didn't have enough in his tank to continue playing.

The Firebirds clinched their second straight regional crown when Arnold-C. Matthews upended the Alawar brothers -- Rawad and Kareem -- by a 10-1 decision at No. 2 doubles. Southern Nash claimed its seventh consecutive victory against Aycock.

"After sitting back and watching the match today, I saw Southern Nash has two things -- superior confidence and that goes along with the coach, players and crowd," said Coghill, who is 0-7 all-time against the Firebirds. "They've also got the best athletes in school. I told my guys it's OK to be disappointed and the trick is to think about the good things they have done this year.

"Our goal was to win the east this year and we came up one match shy."