South tennis captures title

Published 1:37 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

In Andy Soots’ third season of guiding the South Davie boys tennis team, the Tigers evolved into a salty squad after years of suffering losing records.

Behind three eighth graders, one seventh grader and two sixth graders in the singles lineup, South captured its first conference championship since 2006 as it posted a 7-1 record in the new Tri-County Conference. The only loss was 5-4 to West Rowan, but the Tigers finished ahead of runner-up West in the final standings. Ellis, which fell to South by scores of 5-4 and 6-3, was third.   

The team’s top player was eighth-grade captain William Martin, who went a combined 10-4 in singles and doubles.

“Amazing,” Soots, who is also the South girls tennis coach, said of Martin’s season. “As a sixth grader, that first year was rough. When I took over the team, we didn’t have much experience at all. William was the No. 1 player. He fought, he competed, he did the best he could. But the change from then to now has been unbelievable.”

Martin was South’s foremost player, but the success, of course, was a sweet team effort. Seventh-grader Anderson Branham went 11-4 in singles/doubles. Sixth-grader James Martin went 14-2. Eighth-grader Sylas Johnson went 11-4. Eighth-grader Ben Sheek went 13-2. And the team’s tremendous balance included a late-blooming sixth grader, Harris Wagstaff, going 8-1.

“Last season Anderson played No. 2,” Soots said. “His record was not as good, but just like William, he’s made so much progress (at No. 2).

“James (who played No. 3 singles) has already told me he’s going to play football (next fall). If he decided to play tennis, oh my goodness, he would definitely continue to excel.

“Sylas was last year’s most improved player. He has been playing the game a relatively short period of time; he just started playing as a seventh grader. He didn’t have a stellar year last (spring), but he started coming on at the end of the (spring season) and this year everyone can see it – Sylas has made tremendous improvement (at No. 4).

“Ben has been with me all three seasons. He has done quite well, and he definitely hit a higher level his eighth-grade year.

“Harris just started playing tennis, and he came on late (in the season).”

The rest of the team consisted of Patrick Ressa, Chase Nance, Gabe Merrits, Avery Van Lente and Brennan Van Lente.