After going undefeated in their district and sweeping Waynesboro 5-0 to take the conference title, the WAHS boys varsity tennis team went on to beat Blacksburg 5-4 in a grueling regional championship match that came down to a tie-breaker.
The match was the result of a brutal 6.25-hour contest against Hidden Valley, a team that had, up until that point, won 39 straight VHSL matches. “For the past three years we lost in that round to either Blacksburg or Hidden Valley, and the winner went on to win the state championship,” said head coach Seth Heller, who has led the team for four years. “Our boys played tough, smart tennis and came away with a hard-fought win that ensures us a place in the state tournament.”
According to Heller, the postseason success is the result of scheduling tough out-of-conference matches. “We scrimmaged Hidden Valley in Roanoke and lost, and then we played Woodberry Forest and lost to them,” he said. “Those were back-to-back matches against very strong teams and at first the losses hit us pretty hard.”
However, the boys bounced back. A week later, they beat EC Glass, a program that has won the last three straight state championships in their division. “That success sealed the deal, it really lit a fire under us,” added Heller. “From there, the boys got determined to play their best tennis.”
In the lull before the team’s opening match on June 8 at the state tourney, Heller paused to reflect on the season. “The guys have progressed so much, they’ve really done the work,” he said.
Leading the team were its number one and two seeds, junior Daniel Thomas and freshman Alex Ix respectively. “Alex hasn’t lost throughout the year,” said Heller. “He’s come through in the clutch time and again and has been a tremendous addition to our singles and doubles lineup.”
Heller described Thomas as “a pivotal leader throughout the season; he’s always the loudest one on the court, he encourages everyone and is always making sure the team’s energy stays high.”
During the postseason, Heller said number three sophomore, Jack Tribble, and number six seed sophomore, Simon Rader, have been pivotal. “Heading into the postseason, those two began playing some really amazing doubles,” he said. “Their chemistry just gelled. It’s been amazing to watch.”
Heller said that having taken out heavily-favored Hidden Valley, he feels confident about the team’s chances in the state tournament.
“At the beginning of the season the guys set a goal to win the state tournament, but also to make themselves personally responsible for each of their teammates, and that tells you a lot about the character of this group,” he said. “These guys want to be out there playing together, and we’ve advanced to a point we’ve never been before, so we’re definitely excited to continue playing and for the opportunity to continue getting better.”