Amber Nee, East Mecklenburg Tennis: Amber Nee says she is not a “regular person.”
But what makes the East Mecklenburg freshman different is what makes her so special.
Nee, 15, is on the spectrum for autism and is in her first year in the Exceptional Children’s (EC) program at East Meck.
While she faces some challenges, Nee is perfectly comfortable in her own skin.
“I like being me,” Nee said. “I don’t want to be a ‘regular person.’ I want to be Amber.”
Nee is not only a good student, but just a few weeks into her high school career, she is excelling on the tennis court, where she not only made the East Mecklenburg girls’ tennis team, but has earned the No. 2 singles’ spot, and has played No. 1 in a match this season.
Nee’s success on the court is no surprise to those who know her best as she has been playing since she was 8 years old (second grade) when Amber started hitting with her mother, Monica, and younger brother, Tyler, at their Thornhill neighborhood tennis courts.
“I believe tennis helps Amber feel like a ‘regular person,’” said Monica Nee, who is still a 5.0, USTA tennis player in adult leagues herself. “We wanted to get her into athletics to socialize and meet people. Her passion is anything social, especially tennis and being part of a group and a team. She loves every minute of it, and everybody loves Amber, too.”
“Amber has been a great addition to this team, she’s in the middle of everything and all the girls love her,” East Mecklenburg girls’ tennis coach, Thomas Nguyen said. “We all understand her condition, but it doesn’t matter at all. She’s not only a good player, but a blessing for our entire team to know.”
While Nee and her East Mecklenburg team (0-5) haven’t won a match this year, she is one of the most popular players with both her Eagle teammates and the opposing players and coaches.
Nee has been a fixture in the South Charlotte tennis community for years now from her first tennis camps at Barclay Downs’ Swim and Racquet Club under the care of Coach John Williams.
Nee trains with her Special Olympics’ coaches, Bob Bowler and Jeff Beard, each fall and spring, where she has won five straight gold medals in tournament play.
She is also in the John Trimp Tennis Academy, where she practices at least once a week at Sardis Swim and Racquet Club.
Nee seems to have a couple of good friends on nearly every East Mecklenburg opponent and beyond from Zoe Wojnowich at Providence to Elyse Duley, Catie and Sarah Holshouser at Myers Park to Charlotte Latin girls’ tennis coach, Dale Hall.
She also travels around the Charlotte area to see her friends play in both high school and USTA junior matches.
While Nee enjoys any opportunity to play or watch tennis, playing for her East Meck High team has been one of her favorite experiences.
In Nee’s first conference matches at Porter Ridge on Aug. 22, Amber wasn’t in the top six singles’ players that day, but did play on the No. 3 doubles’ team.
But, as Nee watched the singles’ play she asked her mom, Monica, why she wasn’t playing.
Monica Nee explained to play singles, you have to be ranked in the top six on your team.
Three days later, Amber Nee had beaten East Meck’s No. 5 and 6 players, earning her spot in the singles’ lineup and has continued to move up the ladder.
“I would be completely happy if Amber was No. 7 or 8 (singles) or lower, and was just out there having fun playing tennis,” Monica Nee said. “But when I found out she was playing No. 2 and even No. 1, I was so happy for her.
“But Amber doesn’t change no matter what position she is playing, she is going to play as hard as she can and enjoy every minute. When she played No. 1 (against Rocky River) she lost 6-1, 6-0 and walked off the court with a big smile on her face.”
Amber Nee is getting better with each match, according to coach Nguyen, who expects her to improve dramatically this season in the next four years at East Meck as she continues to be more strategic on the court.
Nees’ athletic success is a family tradition as her grandfather, Joe Bonikowski, played professional baseball for the Minnesota Twins and Washington Senators.
Both her parents are 5.0, USTA tennis players as her mom, Monica, starred at South Mecklenburg High before playing at UNC Asheville. Meanwhile, her father, Jon, played college tennis at West Virginia Wesleyan.
Her younger brother Tyler has been playing tennis and baseball since he was 6, and hopes to play at Providence Day School this spring.
While Amber Nee is following in her family’s footsteps, she is also busy making a name for herself.
“She’s always been competitive, but we couldn’t find an outlet for her to explore that nature in a serious way,” Monica Nee said. “She knows if she plays well, she is going to be rewarded in some way. That’s what drives her.”
Myers Park Girls’ Tennis Team: The Myers Park girls’ tennis team swept East Mecklenburg and Porter Ridge, 9-0, last week to run their record to a perfect 9-0 this season.
The Mustangs have won 60 of their 66 matches this season.
Coach Ed Flynn and the Myers Park girls’ team have now won 30 straight matches, including the 2016, 4A state championship.
While Flynn has gotten big contributions from his entire lineup, seniors, Elisabeth Drake and Catie Holhouser and freshman, Elyse Duley, are all still unbeaten in both singles’ and doubles’ play.
Aleena Oakley, Independence Girls’ Tennis: The Independence senior, co-captain led the Patriots (6-2) to a 9-0 victory at rival, Rocky River on Sept. 7.
Oakley won 6-4, 6-2 at No. 1 singles, while also teaming with co-captain, Katie French to win 10-1 in doubles in the same match.
Oakley is 5-2 in singles’ play and 6-0 in doubles’ play this season.
Jackson Raymer, Hough Soccer: The Hough senior forward continues to impress in his first year in a Husky uniform with four goals in two games last week.
Raymer, who played for the Carolina Rapids’ Academy team last season, had a hat-trick in Hough’s 7-0 victory over East Mecklenburg on Sept. 7.
Two days earlier, he scored a goal in the Huskies’ 3-0 at Independence.
Raymer has 10 goals in six games for Hough (5-1) this season and is also ranked No. 2 in his class academically, according to Husky soccer coach, David Smith.
David Mbuyu, Garinger Soccer: The Garinger senior forward had 15 goals and four assists in five games this season as the Wildcats are off to a 4-0-1 start.
Mbuyu had one of his best games of the season in a 5-1 victory over Vance on Sept. 5, accounting for all five scores with three goals and two assists.
Mbuyu has also scored five goals in two different games this season.
Patrick Hannagan and Jake McMillen, Pine Lake Prep Soccer: The Pine Lake Prep duo helped the Pride remain unbeaten (6-0-1) leading their team to two more victories.
Pine Lake Prep sophomore goalkeeper, Patrick Hannagan, recorded two more shutouts in a 7-0 win over Mountain Island Charter Sept. 6, and an 8-0 victory over Woodlawn School on Sept. 8. Hannagan has five shutouts this season.
McMillen has seven goals in the two games, with four goals in the Mountain Island Charter win, setting a school-record with a hat trick in the first eight minutes and 23 seconds of the game.
McMillen, who has 16 goals this season, netted more three goals in the victory over Woodlawn School.
Pine Lake Prep has outscored its opponents 40 to 2 this season.
Stuart Windell, Charlotte Country Day Soccer: The Charlotte Country Day senior center midfielder had two assists in a 3-0 victory at Charlotte Catholic Sept. 7, as the Bucs’ remained unbeaten at 6-0-2 this season.
Windell, a team captain, also had an assist in the Bucs’ 8-0 home win over Forsyth Country Day on Sept. 5.
Windell has four goals and five assists this season.
Mateo Valencia, Mallard Creek Soccer: The Mallard Creek sophomore forward has helped the Mavericks (3-3-1) to three straight victories after returning the lineup from injury.
Valencia had five goals in two victories last week, including two in a 4-0 win over Kernersville Glenn on Sept. 5, with a hat-trick (three goals) in a 6-0 triumph at Harding two days later.
Caroline Juckett, Charlotte Latin Field Hockey: The Charlotte Latin junior forward scored three goals and dished out three assists in two victories last week as Hawks remained unbeaten at 8-0 this season.
Juckett started her week with two goals and two assists in the Latin’s 5-0 victory at defending NCFHA state champion, Myers Park on Sept. 5.
Three days later, she had one goal and an assist in Hawks’ 8-0 win over St. Mary’s.
Kevin Dewalt, Statesville Christian Football: The 6-foot, 290-pound senior defensive tackle had a career-high 16 tackles, as his defending, NCISAA Division III state champion, Statesville Christian team beat defending, NCISAA Division I state champion, Charlotte Latin, 21-3 on the road.
Dewalt, who also had three tackles for a loss and one sack in the victory, injured his shoulder in the game, but got it wrapped and kept playing, according to Statesville Christian coach, Angelo Cox.
Dewalt, who has 34 tackles and three sacks this season, helped the Lions to their ninth straight victory dating back to last season.
Drew Brenner, Christ the King Football: The Christ the King sophomore running back/linebacker had record-breaking night in the Crusaders’ 49-6 win over Victory Christian on Sept. 8.
Brenner set school records with 168 yards rushing and three touchdowns on offense.
He also set a school-marks with 20 tackles, including seven tackles for loss on defense.
Brenner has 348 yards rushing and six touchdowns, and 68 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and four sacks for Christ the King (1-3) this season.
Brenner has college football interest from The Citadel, Wofford, Furman and others, according to Christ the King football coach Jay Alverson.
Will Exson, Cannon School Football: The Cannon School senior wide receiver/defensive back continues to get it done on both sides of the ball, catching two passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns, while recording 10 tackles on defense in the Cougars’ 49-0 win over Pine Lake Prep Sept. 8.
Exson has seven catches for 169 yards and four touchdowns receiving so far this year, while registering 39 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery on defense in four games for the Cougars (3-1) this season.
Zoe Weatherington, Charlotte Country Day Volleyball: The Charlotte Country Day junior, outside hitter had a monster week on the court with 72 kills and 47 digs in three, Bucs’ victories.
Weatherington had 31 kills and 22 digs in a 3-2 win at Carmel Christian on Sept. 7, only to come back with 24 kills and 20 digs in 3-2 home victory over Covenant Day the next day.
Weatherington has 196 kills and 97 digs for the Charlotte Country Day (11-2), who has won seven straight matches as of Sept. 11.
Marshall Williamson, Myers Park Cross Country: The Myers Park senior ran the state’s best 5,000-meter (5K) time this cross country season, 15:19.94, to win the Royals’ High School Twilight Invitational at Freedom Park on Sept. 9.
Williamson’s time was a personal-best by nearly a minute as he led the Mustangs to a team victory at the same race.
Myers Park senior, Michael Ly, also ran a personal-best, 15:38.33 to finish as runner-up.
Justin Molina, Mooresville Cross Country: The Mooresville senior won the Northwest Cabarrus Cross Country Carnival Sept. 5, running a 10:54 on the two-mile course.
Molina also led his Blue Devils’ team to a first-place finish at the event.
Mooresville sophomore, Damien Gonzalez (fifth-place), senior, Thomas Voos (6th-place) and sophomore, Matt Ferrera (10th-place) all posted top 10 finishes to help the Blue Devils to victory.
Miles Phillips, East Lincoln Cross Country: The East Lincoln freshman was the top ninth-grade finisher at the Northwest Cabarrus Cross Country Carnival on Sept. 5, running a personal-best 11:38, two-mile.
Phillips finished 17th overall in the same event, only the second race of his East Lincoln career.
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
HELP US FIND THE ATHLETES
This season’s finest highlights high school athletes with outstanding performances. Information published today includes statistics through Sept. 10. In most cases, the athletes featured will come from sports that don’t get a lot of recognition. However, the goal is to recognize excellence. If you want to suggest someone to be included in This Season’s Finest column, send email to Jay Edwards at email@example.com. Please include the athletes’ name, school, class and applicable game performance statistics. Coaches must be willing to verify information.
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