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Against the Odds

Northeastern boys tennis relishes championship season

NHS did not field a team last spring

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The Northeastern boys tennis team l-r: Top row: Parker Betts, Alex Kockler, Michael Carter, Taylor Carter, LP Hornthal and David Kleinschuster. Bottom row: Darius Walton and Nolan Patel. The team clinched the 2018 Northeastern Coastal Conference regular season championship after not fielding a team during the 2017 season. Photo taken Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at Northeastern High School.

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By Malcolm Shields
Sports Editor

Sunday, April 15, 2018

This time last spring, the majority of the Northeastern boys’ tennis team was occupied with other interests besides the sport of tennis.

Some dabbled with other sports, while some did not compete in a sport entirely.

The high school did not field a boys’ tennis team during the 2017 season due to low numbers.

A year later, not only has the NHS boys’ tennis program return, it has made a mark.

The Eagles have already clinched the Northeastern Coastal Conference regular season team championship and are set to potentially host a North Carolina High School Athletic Association Class 2A dual team state playoff match next month.

Northeastern has an 8-0 overall record with a 4-0 mark in the conference this spring.

The Eagles clinched the NCC regular season championship with a 5-3 victory at First Flight on March 29.

NHS clinched an undefeated regular season in the conference with a 6-3 victory at Currituck on Thursday.

According to Northeastern coach April Rowe Turner, the momentum for the program to return was fueled by the players going to the school’s athletic director requesting to bring back the team.

The initiative shown by the boys was a positive sign for Turner, who also coached the NHS girls’ tennis team during the fall.

“I already knew that I would have at least six [players],” she said of the boys’ team.

NHS currently has eight players on the roster.

The Eagles fortunately had some players that had some competitive match experience return this spring.

L.P. Hornthal and David Kleinschuster were both part of the last NHS team to take the court in 2016.

Kleinschuster, a senior, is listed as the team captain and is the No. 4 singles player for the Eagles.

He also contributes in doubles.

Hornthal, the Eagles’ No. 2 in singles and competitor in doubles, was the 2016 Daily Advance Area Player of the Year in boys’ tennis.

Hornthal noted that he thought at first it would be difficult to bring back the team.

Hornthal, a senior, played baseball instead of tennis last spring.

He noted that he played baseball previously in middle school, but noted he has strong ties to tennis.

“I have a strong influence within my family tennis-wise,” Hornthal said. “I fell in love with tennis in ninth grade.”

Hornthal noted that he enjoyed baseball last spring, but also enjoys the success achieved with the tennis team this spring.

Brothers Taylor and Michael Carter have played key roles for the Eagles in singles and doubles.

Hornthal noted that the Carter brothers came out and stunned everyone with their level of play.

The Carters have played pick-up tennis before joining the team.

Taylor, a senior, is the No. 1 singles, while Michael is the No. 3 singles.

Taylor has embraced the entire experience on the tennis team.

“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” he said. “It’s fun playing with everybody. It’s my first year playing tennis. It’s been a really fun experience to come out and do what we have done so far.”

Tennis isn’t the first sport for both as Taylor was a standout baseball player for Northeastern, while Michael, a freshman, was a member of the NHS boys’ soccer team last fall.

Taylor didn’t play baseball for NHS last season and noted that he had played baseball for most of his life and added he dealt with burnout with baseball.

“I played tennis for fun and I just wanted to try it out this year and I’ve loved it,” Taylor said.

The bottom of the Northeastern lineup was novice to the sport.

Alex Kockler, a freshman, plays No. 5 singles, while seniors Darius Walton, Parker Betts and Nolan Patel have seen time on the court in both singles and doubles.

Walton and Betts played football, while Patel was a member of the boys’ basketball team.

Hornthal credits Turner for getting the bottom of the lineup up to speed.

“She taught them the basics and they just soared,” Hornthal said.

Turner said what has surprised her the most about the team is how trust has been built between herself and the team from the beginning of the season to now.

“The past few weeks, we’ve really connected as a whole,” Turner said. “They trust in me and I trust in them. Our dynamic is definitely coming together.”

The match that stood out to Turner about the team was the Eagles’ March 29 match against the Nighthawks in Kill Devil Hills.

NHS went 3-3 in singles and secured the match with two wins in doubles to clinch the match and the league title.

“That was the best that I have seen them play,” Turner said.

The Eagles appear to have a solid work ethic.

“Tennis is an individual sport, but we’re very together,” Hornthal said. “We all push each other in practice. We all push everyone to get better each and every practice.”

Everyone acknowledged that the team wants to achieve more.

Even with the conference title in the bag, Northeastern has one more scheduled regular season match on Tuesday at home against Lawrence Academy.

The following week, the conference tournament will take place at Currituck.

On the line at the conference tournament are two individual slots each in singles and doubles to the NCHSAA 2A East Regional at Greene Central on May 4-5.

The first round of the dual team tournament is May 2.

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