By Brian Eller -- email@example.com
CROZET -- For the past few years, Western Albemarle has been the ultimate test for Sherando's boys tennis team. The three-time defending state champions, fittingly sharing Sherando's "Warrior" nickname, have plagued the Warriors from Stephens City each season. Last year Western knocked Sherando out in the regional tournament final and kept them from capturing a Region II championship.
"We knew coming in that it was going to be tough," Sherando coach Steven Jennings said. "They've always been a tough team and they've always been our stumbling block getting past this school. It's a real test for us."
Saturday the latest test results were in, as the two teams met at Western, this time to determine who would take home the Region II title again. And despite a valiant effort from Sherando, the Warriors from Western Albemarle finished on top, winning 5-1.
"I thought our guys performed very well," Western coach Charles Ix said. "They were up to the task. I will say this though; this Sherando team is different from the team last year. There are players from 1-6. These guys can hit and it was a tough test."
For the second consecutive year the two teams met for the regional title and early on Western Albemarle had the advantage. With one court unsuitable for playing conditions due to water, five of the six singles matches got under way.
While the No. 1 matchup between Western's Cam Scott and Sherando's Kaleb Nguyen took a back-and-forth approach from the opening game, other matches were more one-sided.
Alex Preve, a four-year starter for Western, took an early lead on Sherando's Trevor Scott in the No. 2 match, winning five of the first seven games on his way to claming the first set, 6-2. Another 6-2 win for Preve helped put Western on the board.
Meanwhile, Western's Teddy Nelson also found success against Sherando's Trey Scott, as Nelson took the first set, 6-1, then finished Scott off with a 6-4 win. The highlight matches, however, came at the No. 1 and No. 6 courts.
After Nguyen dropped the opening set to Scott, 7-5, the Sherando junior switched to the more aggressive role and began to show why he was in the top slot for the Warriors.
"The first set I was really getting used to the settings and the conditions of the court," Nguyen said. "These are a lot different, Sherando's are a bit slower, but after that I just kind of picked up my feet and played my game."
With a bearing on his surroundings, Nguyen took control of his match, winning the second set, 6-1. At the same time in the No. 6 match, Western's Tom Lewis and Sherando's Chris Mikus were in a dead heat. Lewis had taken the first set, but trailed 6-5 in the second set as the set went to the tiebreaker.
The two took turns holding the advantage, each using a variety of drop shots and rocket serves to keep their opponent off balance. Lewis overcame the deficit, however, winning the set and the point for Western.
"All year we play a fairly easy district schedule and I mix in some private schools in there and these guys, being down a set or being down they know not to panic," Ix said. "They know to just bear down and grind it out. It's about grinding it out and it's about percentage tennis."
With Western leading, 3-0, the Warriors were just two points away from victory with three matches left. After Nguyen took the third set, 6-1, Sherando finally got on the board, but things didn't look promising as the No. 4 matchup between Western's Andrew Loving and Sherando's Nick Lee appeared to be in Western's favor.
Sure enough, after escaping the first set with a 7-5 win, Loving finished Lee off with a 6-4 win.
Western took the No. 5 match too, giving them the 5-1 win and the Region II title while ending an impressive season for Sherando.
"I'm losing two seniors [next year]," Jennings said. "So other than that I'm hoping the other guys will come back and play."