The 2023 Western Albemarle boy’s tennis season was a highly successful effort for the twelve Warriors involved, winning six state playoff matches and securing their sixth consecutive state team title in a 5-1 victory against Hanover June 9.
The team was led by senior captain Luke Kielbasa, who was honored with the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame’s Student Athlete of the Year award earlier this spring. Kielbasa went undefeated against public school opponents in his three years of singles and doubles competition. This season Kielbasa played three singles matches due to a slow recovery from an offseason wrist injury and demonstrated tremendous leadership.
Junior Gordon Fairborn was the number one player for the majority of the 2023 season and played number two doubles alongside Luke Kielbasa. Sophomore Brader Eby was undefeated against public school competition at number two singles and briefly played at the number one position this spring. Eby was the top doubles player on the team with his regular season partner Wade Sturman. Sturman has won every match at the number four position against public school competition in his first two years on the varsity team.
“These four tennis players have worked hard year-round to become the best players in the Jefferson District region. Each one of them could have easily been the top player at any of the other local public or private schools in the Charlottesville area,” said Head Coach Randy Hudgins.
“Their willingness to push each other during afternoon practices and on weekends had a significant impact on the drive to win a state title. It is remarkable.”
To compete for a state title, teams have to win six state playoff matches (once a team wins either five singles or doubles matches the match is over). Each player on the boy’s team was integral in Western’s road to securing the state title with regional and state competition in both singles and doubles.
Sophomore Kemper Brown was the most improved player on the team as he fought hard to break into the singles lineup at the number five position. Kemper won the decisive fifth singles match to clinch the team victory in the fifth state playoff match against Broad Run High School. In the state finals against Hanover High School, he won a highly contested three set match after losing the first set.
Junior George Rader played a key role in his third season as the number six player on the team, rallying from an early deficit to win the 5th singles match in the state finals. The number three doubles team of Cal Miller and Jackson Smith fought hard to be ready for their opportunity to play a key role, winning the 4th state playoff match against Rock Ridge High School, winning the decisive fifth point with a straight set victory.
Fairborn represented the school in singles and won the regional competition that took place at EC Glass High School in Lynchburg. Fairborn ultimately lost to a talented player from Grafton High School in the state singles semifinals but was a tremendous regional competitor.
Eby and Kielbasa also won the regional doubles competition with a dominant victory over a duo from Salem High School. In the state doubles final, they won a tight first set in a tiebreaker against a previously undefeated doubles team from Light Ridge High School and then finished strong in the second set to claim Western Albemarle’s sixth straight doubles title as well.
The other four members of the team—Joshua Zie, Reid Keller, Daniel Stewart, and Hudson Williams—were very successful throughout the regular season when they competed in district matches and will have the opportunity to move into the starting lineup next season.
The boys program was led by strategic coaching tactics from Head Coach Randy Hudgins and Assistant Coach Adam Raines. Hudgins will be retiring this season following five years and five state titles with the Western tennis program and says his experience with the boys team has been nothing short of wonderful.
“The Western boys tennis team has built a culture known as Warrior Pride in recent years. It has been a year-round commitment for most of the top players,” says Hudgins. “There is a desire to keep it going, so to speak. The pride in what has already been accomplished in terms of six straight team titles and the dedication to improvement to do it again each year. Whatever it takes in terms of hard work and commitment. That’s Warrior Pride for the boys tennis team at Western Albemarle.”