Golden Falcons overcome graduation losses
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 13, 2011 1:47 PM
Any team, regardless the sport, sets its sights on a conference championship before each season begins.
Some achieve supremacy.
Others ponder what could have been.
The loss of four seniors, including the all-time career wins leader, didn't necessarily leave the cupboard bare for the Charles B. Aycock men's tennis program in 2010. But the lack of experience, the departure of its head coach and lower-seeded players taking on larger roles prompted the opposition to think this was the year to finally ground the Golden Falcons.
Luke Vail stepped into the spot vacated by Kevin Coghill, who is now the head coach at his alma mater -- Mount Olive College. Vail assessed the returners, groomed some newcomers into consistent players and Aycock once again ruled the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference.
The Golden Falcons posted a 16-1 worksheet that included an unblemished 12-0 mark in league play. Vail's squad captured the program's fourth consecutive regular-season crown and extended its league win streak to 42 matches since 2008.
"An ultimate challenge," said Vail. "We felt like the odds were not in our favor (to win the ECC). We were lacking experience and had just two players returning in the lineup. When you win (the league) three years in a row, the bullseye is on you because people are eager to knock you off.
"You always get everybody's best shot. Our guys handled it well."
Vail eagerly credited part of the team's success to Coghill, who constantly drilled the fundamentals and tried to eliminate the bad habits during his tenure in Pikeville. Once Vail took the reins, his main goal was to limit the players' power game and fine-tune the tactical side, learn to hit with accuracy.
The players became more relaxed, they reduced their unforced errors and gained confidence. Consistent play from a depth-rich bottom order of the lineup, and the leadership from seniors Bradley Wilson and Rex Rose began to factor into the team's overall success.
Three consecutive 5-4 decisions over perennial powers Wilson Fike, Rocky Mount and Greene Central further solidified the players' self belief.
"That might have been the biggest turning point of the season," said Vail. "They're all three good, solid tennis teams. We had to play down to the last point, and were able to come back to win matches we could have easily lost.
"It gave our guys confidence that if we're down, we're still not out of it."
Aycock isn't an overpowering team.
The Golden Falcons have simply discovered -- and executed -- the right formula to emerge victorious on numerous occasions this season.
"It's been a good group to coach because they have really good work ethics, and good sportsmanship," said Vail. "I told the boys that at the end of the season I'd like for people to say that you're a group of overachievers, and take that as a compliment because you worked really hard and exceeded expectations."
With an ECC title to prove it.
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