Vail plans to run with the Dogs at Gardner-Webb
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 29, 2010 11:54 PM
PIKEVILLE -- Let college tennis fall under the radar and a dream slip between the cracks?
Blake Vail almost let it happen ... until his first serve of the spring season rejuvenated the Charles B. Aycock senior.
"I thought 'I'm not really ready to give it up' and started thinking about it more and more," said Vail. "My goal when I picked up a racquet was I'm going to play D-I tennis and that goal kind of drifted away, but somehow it came back."
Thoughts of just attending classes at UNC Wilmington, and playing tennis as recreation didn't sit too well with Vail. Coaches continued to recruit the top-seeded senior, who finally settled on one program once he made his initial visit.
Vail traveled to Gardner-Webb University, met with the coaches and players, and enjoyed the panoramic view of the school's mountain setting. It didn't take him long to sign a national letter-of-intent with the Runnin' Bulldogs, who compete in the Division I Big South Conference.
"The coach (Mike Griffith) seemed really knowledgeable about tennis and the team is really talented," said Vail. "I enjoyed talking to the players and got along with them well."
Gardner-Webb finished 12-14 this spring and lost to top-seeded Radford University in the Big South semifinals. Griffith will lose two seniors to graduation and is expected to return nine players, including seven who were freshmen this season.
Vail doesn't expect to crack the starting singles lineup, however, he could slip at No. 3 doubles. An improved net player, Vail didn't lose a doubles match during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons with four different partners.
"My serve definitely has got to get bigger ... they all have a big serve and it's a weapon," said Vail. "I have to get my groundstrokes a little bit bigger, take control of the point and hit winners. They never take a point off ... try their absolute hardest and hit every ball with 100 percent effort.
"There is no giving up."
Vail finished his prep career with a 104-8 record in singles, which included an unprecedented four consecutive Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference tournament crowns. He helped guide Aycock to three straight ECC dual-team titles and back-to-back appearances in the N.C. High School Athletic Association eastern regional dual-team finals in 2008 and 2009.
The Golden Falcons collected 66 dual-team victories during that stretch.
"I know Blake will be a great addition to the Gardner-Webb tennis team and make contributions right away," said Aycock head coach Kevin Coghill. "I hope that aspiring tennis players from Wayne County will try to follow Blake's footsteps and try to play college tennis."
Griffith sent Vail a workout regimen to follow that includes cardio and weight training. Vail also plans to participate in USTA tournaments this summer to help improve his game.
"I love playing team sports, but I really feel like in tennis I control my own destiny and am directly involved ... it's all on you and you have no one to blame," said Vail, who will pursue a history education degree with hopes of entering law school.
"I love the competitive side of it. When I'm around all those good players, I am going to work just as hard as I can to get as good or better than they are. I think that mentality will help keep me hungry, and keep the fire under me."
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