Boys tennis rides doubles teams to third round of playoffs

Alex Langan

The Grady boys varsity tennis team reached the state quarterfinals for the second year in a row in addition to winning the first 6-AAAAA region tournament since GHSA realignment. The team credits the success to the captains’ leadership.

“The success of the tennis teams the last two seasons was based on student leadership,” coach Scott Stephens said. “This year Jon Lerner and Lena Rosen were captains and they got the team prepared last fall with captains’ practices.”

The new region is a positive change for Grady as there are only public and charter schools to compete with.

“The new region had four good teams, North Springs, Decatur, Riverwood and Grady,” Stephens said. “One advantage of the new alignment is that there are no private schools in AAAAA. That said, we have become competitive with many private schools.”

Early in the season, the team struggled as they adjusted to a very different lineup from 2016 with the spots of four graduated seniors vacated.

“It was very important  that our underclassmen performed well,” senior captain Jon Lerner said. “We need a strong lineup and they helped us have a team that was deep instead of just two or three good players.”

As the season progressed, however, the younger lineup gelled in time to have a successful season.

“We started off slowly,” junior Randall Schwartz said. “But by the end of the year we were the best team in our region.”

After receiving the No. 4 seed in the regional tournament, the Knights, led by Lerner, Schwartz, and sophomores Jack Stegelman, Max Freightman, Robert Mobley and Josh Wolfe, beat fifth seeded Lithia Springs 4-1. After this they were matched up with second seeded Riverwood in the semifinals, where senior Corwin Robison got the winning match for the Knights in the third set to win the matchup 3-2. In the championship round, Grady faced the No. 1 seed North Springs. Lerner and Stegelman came in clutch for the Knights as they won the deciding doubles game, giving Grady a 3-2 victory and its first regional championship.

“The key to the boys winning the region, I think was having the team peak at the right moment,” Stephens said. “It also helps to have an excellent No. 1 singles player, Josh Wolfe. We lost to both Decatur and North Springs in the regular season, but the boys beat No. 1 [seed] Riverwood in the regular season and again at the region tournament. We also beat North Springs to secure the No. 1 spot in the region. That’s quite an accomplishment since went into the tournament as the No. 4 team.”

After this victory, the Knights clinched the No. 1 seed in the state playoffs, giving Grady home court advantage.

“Having the first seed really helped us going into the state tournament, especially because we had home matches at Piedmont Park,” Lerner said

In the first round of the state playoffs, the Knights faced Johnson at Piedmont Park. Grady won 4-1 with relative ease. In the second round, Grady beat Ola 4-1 to reach the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. In the quarterfinals, however, the Knights finally met their match with Starr´s Mills, who used their enormous depth to win 3-0 and break the 11-game winning streak put up by Grady.

“Obviously being the No. 1 seed from the region meant we played a No. 4 seed in the first round,” Stephens said. “Our second round match was also against a lesser seeded team. In the third round, the quarterfinals, we a faced a No. 1 seed, Starr’s Mill. We won the coin toss so they came to us. We have relied on our depth to win most of our matches, especially the play of our doubles teams. Unfortunately, Starr’s Mill had some excellent doubles teams as well, most them are seniors.”

Despite the tough loss, the Knights are still optimistic for their prospects in 2018, with much of the lineup returning.

“We will only lose Jon Lerner to graduation from the doubles teams,” Stephens said.

With the departure of the seniors, will come vacancies in the starting lineup. The team envisions that backups from this season will need to step up and play in the starting lineup next year.

“We have the same core players but we need to replace our lost seniors with capable players,” Schwartz said. “We need to continue to play at a high level and the new starters on the team will have to step up whether they are upperclassmen or underclassmen.”