Andrew Gores showed up to Charlotte Country Day's second tennis match against Providence Day in April with a boot on his right foot.
The senior had torn a ligament in his ankle in the offseason but had been putting off surgery and playing sparingly. Surgery would put him out for the rest of the season.
Gores, the team's No. 1 player, wanted a state championship. Country Day hadn't won a title since he was in eighth grade, but he wasn't sure it was worth continuing to play with an injured ankle.
When Country Day lost that second match 5-4 - their only loss of the season - Gores knew he had to keep playing.
"There's no way I'm getting the surgery until after states," he said.
The wait paid off. Country Day made its way through the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A tournament and beat rival Providence Day 6-3 in the final to win its 16th championship, the first since 2007.
Gores, 18, finally had surgery last Wednesday.
Winning "meant everything," said coach Calvin Davis, who has been coaching at Country Day for 22 years. "It's all that (Gores) talked about for a year. ... He wanted it so bad he was willing to play with pain."
Gores' freshman and sophomore years, the Buccaneers lost the state championship to Cary Academy 5-4 (2008) and 6-3 (2009). Last year, Country Day lost in the semifinals to Providence Day, 6-3.
The Providence Day rivalry is pretty heated, said junior William Moore, the team's No. 3 player, which made last year's loss even tougher.
"We just don't really like each other," said Moore, 17.
Nearly every season, the Bucs and Chargers split their regular-season matches. This year, Country Day won the first match 6-3 and lost the second 5-4.
In this year's tournament, Providence got the No. 1 seed; Country Day was No. 2.
"Once I saw that, I was pretty confident we were going to play each other in the finals," said Gores. "I was cheering for Providence Day to win (its semifinal match against Cary Academy) because I really wanted to beat them."
Davis, 58, kept Gores out of several matches to keep from putting too much stress on his ankle, which meant the rest of the top players had to move up a level during matches. The coach said that experience helped them in the state tournament.
"Our guys were used to playing tough matches," he said.
Still, Davis knew Providence Day would be hard to beat in the championship.
"They have a very good team," he said. "I have a lot of respect for all of their players."
All year, Providence Day's doubles teams have looked better than Country Day's. In the match Country Day lost, the Chargers won all three doubles matches. So when the Bucs No. 1 and No. 3 doubles teams won to give Country Day a 2-1 lead heading into singles, the team was confident. The Bucs then won four of the six singles matches to clinch the title.
"At the beginning of the year we set our goal: We're not messing around, we're going to win a championship," said Moore. When they won, Moore said, the team was already looking ahead to next year. "That's the first thing we said, that we wanted to repeat."
With four of the top six players returning, the Bucs have a good chance. Country Day loses only two seniors: Gores, who will play at North Carolina next year, and No. 6 Taylor Rule, a four-year player for the team.
Juniors Allen Jackson (No. 2), Moore and Jacob Bobrow (No. 4) all return next year, as does freshman Will Turner (No. 5), whom Davis calls a "spark plug."
Davis said he hopes the feeling the players had after winning this year carries over to the next.
"Once you've had the experience of what it feels like to be a champion, that creates an incentive to continue and repeat that feeling, that glorious moment," he said. "You just play a little harder."
At the beginning of every season, Davis leads the team away from the tennis courts and through a side door of the Bruton Smith Athletic Center. He stops them in front of a small trophy case crammed full of championship trophies and plaques. Then he leads them to the second floor and into the gym, where he points to the banners listing the 27 boys' and girls' tennis championships Davis has won with Country Day.
"This is what tradition looks like," he tells the team. "If you want to be a part of this tradition, you must grasp what you see right here."
Next year, there will be one more trophy and one more year listed on the banner.