Lions rebuilding for run at another state title
Tuesday, Mar. 04, 2014

Lions rebuilding for run at another state title

  • Fvie to watch

    Brady Sowers, Mooresville, Sr. – All-IMECK 4A selection last season, went undefeated in singles until second round of 4A dual-team playoffs.

    Sheppard Fowler, Pine Lake Prep, So. – Went 8-3 in singles, 7-4 in doubles with partner Brian Forte in leading Pride to first state tournament appearance.

    Aaron Darden, Bandys, Jr. – Two-time all-conference and Catawba Valley 2A champ won all but one singles match last season.

    Will Barker, Statesville Christian, 8th grade – An NCISAA all-state team pick last year, helped Lions win their first state championship since 2008.

    Greg Dow, Lake Norman, Jr. – All-IMECK 4A pick led Wildcats to undefeated regular season and conference title, as well as berth in state dual-team playoffs.

Last year, Statesville Christian’s boys’ tennis team capped one of the program’s most successful seasons ever with a state championship.

However, with four of six starters either graduating, moving to other schools or other sports, Lions coach Bryan Andrews says it will be a challenge to match last year’s success.

“In a way, it’s a rebuilding year for us,” Andrews said. “We’ve got other guys who played some last year, but they didn’t play in the top six. Hopefully, they can step up to the plate and meet that challenge.”

Statesville Christian finished 14-1 last season, ending with a 7-2 victory over Elon School in the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association’s 1A state championship match.

The Lions handily beat the dual-team tournament’s top-seeded team, it ended Elon School’s four-year run as state champions. The win also gave Statesville Christian its first state title since 2008, and its fifth in the past 10 years. The Lions won three straight NCISAA titles between 2004-2006.

“It was a great experience,” said Will Barker, who played at No. 4 singles as a seventh-grader on last year’s Statesville Christian team.

Barker was one of four Lions players named to the NCISAA’s 10-member 1A all-state team – the others were Diego Castano, Joel Dunlap and Daniel Christian.

But Castano has graduated, as has Ben Barker (Will Barker’s older brother). Dunlap has switched to home schooling to focus on playing more junior tournaments, and No. 6 singles player Cam Neuwirth opted to play on Statesville Christian’s baseball team this year.

“He’s too multi-talented,” Andrews said of Neuwirth. “I would’ve loved to have seen him out here, but he’s just as good a baseball player as he is on the tennis court.”

That’s the Lions’ No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 and No. 6 singles players, leaving them two returning starters – Will Barker and Christian at No. 4 singles.

Barker and Christian both went 11-1 in singles matches last season. Christian also went undefeated in Southern Piedmont Athletic Association matches (8-0), while Barker lost just once (7-1).

“We think we’ve got some good players in place, but we’re going to have to see what transpires,” Andrews said. “I think we’ll be able to hold our own.”

Statesville Christian will be without one of those players for at least the start of the season. Barker, now the Lions’ No. 1 singles player, had surgery on his wrist in mid-February, and won’t be cleared until late March.

Christian, now a high school freshman, will step up from his No. 2 spot to play at No. 1 singles during Barker’s absence.

Barker sees that as a positive.

“Usually, I’ve been the one listening to other people,” said Barker, who had surgery to repair some torn cartilage and bone spurs. “Now, since I can’t play right now, I’ve been helping out coach and stuff.

“It’s going to be harder on us since we lost four of our top six seeds, but I think we can do it if we can give it our all.”

Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at

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