CHARLOTTE – Four years ago, long-time Charlotte Country Day boys tennis coach Calvin Davis thought his team had all it needed to take home a state championship.
That 2015 season ended with the Bucs posting a stellar 21-2 record, but falling to Cary Academy in the championship match. In 2016, Cary Academy again knocked out a good Bucs team in the state semifinals, both times thwarting Davis and his team’s shot at winning a title.
“I think this year was so special because it represented the end of a really long four-year run for us,” said Davis, who has coached the Country Day boys tennis team to 17 of the program’s 18 state championships. “We felt like four years ago, we were capable of winning a title, but for the first two years, it just never happened for us due to an injury or something seemed to always get in the way. The Bucs began this season in dominating fashion by winning 78 of the 81 games they played and with a perfect 9-0 record. Then, on April 13, Country Day snapped its 28-match win streak that spanned parts of two seasons with a 5-4 loss to a senior-heavy Durham Academy team that would go on to win 18 games this year.
But that match seemed to refuel both teams.
The Cavaliers wouldn’t lose again and would reach the state championship match for the first time since falling to Country Day in the 2007 season.
The Bucs would go on to win 75 of their next 77 games and enter the state championship with an 18-1 record and against a familiar opponent in Durham Academy.
It would also lead to a familiar result as the Bucs found themselves in a 2-1 hole – just like in the first meeting – as the two teams concluded doubles matches and entered singles play with a state title hanging in the balance.
“Coming out of the doubles, I was definitely thinking that this was not position that I wanted to be in,” Davis said. “We knew that they were a very good and a very mature team with quite a few seniors. But I told my team at that moment, ‘Guys, we’re getting ready to do what we do best,’ because we have been at our best at singles all season long. They agreed and they were very pumped up when singles started and they went out with a blast.”
Country Day sophomore Bennett Turner was the first off of the singles court with a 6-0, 6-0 win. From there, the Bucs wouldn’t be denied.
“We knew we needed to focus coming out of doubles, but we also knew how important it was to get off the court with that first singles win so that we could tie the score at 2. Bennett Turner went out and won his match 0-0 and that was really big for us,” Davis said.
Shortly thereafter, senior No. 1 Luke McClelland closed his season with a perfect 17-0 singles record by winning his match 6-3, 6-4.
Freshman Kaelan Van Cleeff gave the Bucs a 4-2 advantage and moments later sophomore Johnny Bingham, who fought back to win 6-1, 4-6, 10-6, clinched the title for the Bucs.
“It was a very cleanly played match from both teams all of the way through,” Davis said. “It was like a college match because of how both teams played and because of the atmosphere. We had an unbelievable support group there. There were a lot of parents, but we also had friends and the whole girls tennis team came out, so it was just one big happy Country Day family up there. Our athletic directors were there and I couldn’t have asked for more support. The atmosphere was just electric and that really helped us.”
As Davis led his team out the Lake Norman Tennis Center on May 19 as state champs once again, he said this group will always hold a special place in his heart.
“We live by the mantra that this is a total team effort and every match, from one to six singles and all of our doubles matches in every match, was important,” he said. “Everybody had an important role to play and that led them to support the other guys on their team and led them to being a very cohesive group.
“This was one of the most unified teams that I’ve had at Country Day. It was really a joy to be a part of from the beginning of the season and for them to win it was very special for me and for them.”