High School Sports

Lake Norman High boys’ tennis team reloaded to make run for state title

Coach Martin Kirby and No. 1 singles player Ryan Jurist hope to lead Lake Norman to another conference championship.
Coach Martin Kirby and No. 1 singles player Ryan Jurist hope to lead Lake Norman to another conference championship.

Lake Norman High boys’ tennis coach Martin Kirby considers Ryan Jurist to be the type of player a coach comes across only “once in a lifetime.”

Just so happens, Kirby filled his quota during his first season as the Wildcats’ coach.

Now in their second season together, Kirby and his sophomore, left-handed ace say the 2016 campaign could be better than last year for Jurist and the rest of the Wildcats.

Jurist is coming off a season in which he won the North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference title and the 4A West Regional championship. He leads a team that lost five seniors out of its top six, but Kirby says Lake Norman has reloaded.

The Wildcats, as well as Jurist as a singles player, won all six of their matches before spring break. The next match for Lake Norman, which survived the 2015 regular season without a loss, will be April 5 at Statesville.

Jurist is a tennis junkie. When asked if he had any interests outside of the sport, he replied “(Tennis) is what I do.”

Jurist said his parents, Stephen and Kara, are both athletic and his mom played college tennis. Ryan played his first tennis at seven years old, taking lessons at the Lake Norman Tennis Academy at Jetton Park.

When he was 10, Jurist won the USTA Southern Boys 10-under Closed Championship, effectively ending any interest he had in other sports. He’s been a regular on the junior tennis circuit ever since and has steadily climbed state, regional, and national rankings.

Jurist is the reigning 16-under Tar Heel Qualifier champion. He has won his age group championship each of the past three years.

Jurist’s parents homeschooled him during his eighth grade year and he spent over four months in Boca Raton, Fla., attending the Magallan Tennis Academy. Now that he’s back in public school, Jurist will visit Magallan for a week at a time during school breaks.

At Lake Norman High last year, Jurist said he expected to defer to senior Greg Dow as the team’s top singles player. But Kirby required them to play a challenge match to determine who would be No. 1. Jurist won.

Jurist also defeated Dow, a good friend, to win the conference singles title. At the Western regional tournament, Jurist defeated Hough High’s Wyayimer Jimenez in the final. Jurist reached the second round of the state tournament before losing.

Jurist, who currently trains with coach Stefan Fortmann in his Mooresville neighborhood, is ranked as the fourth best player in the state in the 2018 graduating class by tennisrecruiting.net. The same website ranks Jurist 24th in the Southeast region and 67th nationally.

Though small in stature, 5-foot-7, 125 pounds, Jurist’s quickness makes up for any power disadvantage.

“I try to be aggressive when I can but when I’m playing guys that are 6-4, obviously I have to defend more and use my quickness,” said Jurist. “But I think I do that very well.”

And, Lake Norman may have more depth this season. With juniors Brian Dow (Greg’s brother) and Logan Solomon respectively playing no. 2 and 3, and seniors Devin Brown and Zach Watson at 4 and 5, the Wildcats have experience. Sophomore Alec Vacalis rounds out the top six.

Kirby said five talented freshmen will put Lake Norman in state championship contention for years to come. The Wildcats, which reached the quarterfinals in 2015, last won a state title in 2009.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: joehabina@yahoo.com.