There is no definitive explanation for Southern Nash’s stronghold on the Big East Conference boys’ tennis circuit.
Firebirds coach Brad Joyner does not have a hidden academy in the areas of Spring Hope and Bailey, nor does he pick from a group of student-athletes who are tennis prodigies. What Southern Nash possesses is consistency, and minus a hiccup two seasons ago, the Firebirds have been the class of the league in its current format.
Southern Nash added another league title to its resume Tuesday afternoon with a 6-3 victory at Rocky Mount High School.
The Firebirds will close out the regular season Thursday against Nash Central.
“I think we work hard at it, and we do have five seniors on our team this year,” Joyner said. “That has helped us in some close matches we’ve had.”
Southern Nash (11-1, 8-1 Big East) has taken a slightly different road to prominance this season.
A year after finishing undefeated in the Big East, the Firebirds dropped their league opener, 5-4, to Wilson Fike last month.
Instead of becoming discouraged, Joyner reminded his players of the program’s history.
During the 1998 season, Southern Nash lost its league opener but rattled off wins thereafter to claim the program’s first conference championship. This year’s squad has followed suit.
“It’s always good to see them buy into what you are saying,” said Joyner, who has two state title appearances on his resume.
Tuesday’s match virtually was decided before doubles play even started.
The Firebirds won the final four singles matches and swept the last two doubles matches.
Rocky Mount (4-4, 4-4 Big East) was playing without its No. 3 singles player, and coach Barry Nethercutt made adjustments to his lineup that he did not anticipate.
The Gryphons’ top two players, Kevin Ramirez and J.T. Smith, both played well.
Each won their singles matches, which included Ramirez’s come-from-behind, three-set victory against Firebirds No. 1 Brian Ridgway.
Ramirez and Smith also won in doubles, 8-5, well after the team match had been decided.
“I’m sitting here thinking what could possibly had been if Nish (Patel) was available,” said Nethercutt, whose team will miss the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs this season. “I thought we matched up really well in our top four, and we were playing well at our No. 5 and No. 6.
“Not having him put everyone in a tough spot, and it fell apart on us.”
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or jhnunery@ rmtelegram.com