By Ben Brooks - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando High School boys tennis coach Steve Jennings got just what he wanted from Thursday's Northwestern District match against Handley -- stiff competition and another victory for his unbeaten Warriors.
Sherando continued to flex its muscle and went a long way toward clinching a second straight district regular-season title with a 7-2 victory, but it didn't come as easily as the score might indicate. Unlike the first time the two teams met and unlike their other matches this season, the Warriors needed doubles play on Thursday to settle the outcome.
After winning four of six singles matches, Sherando swept doubles, including an 11-10 (7-5 tiebreaker) marathon win from the No. 2 team of Trevor Scott and Chris Mikus over Handley's Kyle Stickley and Taylor Watts.
"This was a much tougher match than the first time we played them, but it's always a tough match with Handley," said Jennings, whose Warriors improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the district. "It easily could have gone either way."
While Jennings may have overstated things just a bit, the Judges (7-3 overall) did put up more of a fight than their season-opening 8-1 loss to the Warriors.
"This definitely shows what we can do," said Stickley, who picked up one of Handley's two singles wins by rallying for a 10-8 victory over Trevor Scott at No. 2.
Improvement or not, Handley coach Jimmy Robertson still knows Sherando, which returned its top five from a year ago, remains the clear-cut team to beat in the district.
"It's still 7-2," Robertson said. "Some of the matches were close, but they're a very strong and deep team."
The Handley lineup Sherando faced Thursday was quite different from the one it saw at the start of the season. None of the Judges were playing at the same spot. Robertson said he has balance throughout his lineup, especially among the top three. The changes didn't seem to throw the Warriors off too much.
No. 1 Kaleb Nguyen won his first five games en route to a 10-3 victory over Daniel Park. Trey Scott edged Vladamir Daskalov 10-6 at No. 3 and Nick Lee topped Stephen Boppe 10-4 at No. 4. Scott was the last to finish up in singles. His victory gave the Warriors the all-important 4-2 advantage going into doubles.
"We had a lot of long points, especially early," Scott said of his match. "We were both trying to figure out how to play each other."
The two teams split the bottom two singles matches, with Handley's Mark Sfeir beating Daniel Sottosanti 10-3 at No. 5 and Mikus topping Watts 10-5 at No. 6.
In other doubles action, Nguyen and Scott defeated Park and Danny Nolan 10-2 at No. 1 to clinch the team victory. Lee and Sottosanti then edged Sfeir and Boppe 10-8 at No. 3.
While Sherando appears to be headed for another district crown, the Warriors have loftier goals in mind. Last year's team made history with an unbeaten regular season and didn't lose its first match until the Region II final.
"We just needed one more to make it to states," Nguyen said. "We want to get over that hump this year."
"We already made history last year by going farther than any team here has," Scott said. "I just hope we can make even more history."