Last year for Matoaca it was Austin Powers and Brandon Harper leading the way as the Warriors shared the Central District Championship with Thomas Dale. Powers graduated and now attends Christopher Newport. He was replaced as one of the top two tennis player’s on Matoaca’s team by Reid Driskill. Harper moved up to the team’s number one seed and brought home the first-ever Conference 12 boys singles championship, and then teamed with Driskill to bring home the first Conference 12 doubles championship last Thursday.
“It’s been great playing for Matoaca the past three years because when we started out we had a team with not much talent,” Harper explained. “I feel like I’ve been a huge part of turning it around and I feel like it should be good the following years after I leave.”
Third year head coach Christopher Szybisty called it a “tennis renaissance” as Matoaca was one of the top teams in the AA Southside District ten years ago in 2003. After Matoaca moved into to a larger school that also meant competing in a larger district. That included facing perennial powers like Thomas Dale, Prince George and teams from the north such as Manchester and Clover Hill.
The highest Matoaca would finish in the Central District was third over that ten season stretch until last year when Powers and Harper led the Warriors to a Co-Central District championship.
This year, Harper took the reins as the team leader and played as number one this season, despite having a unique style that some say wouldn’t equate to being a top seeded player at any level.
“Brandon has improved his game each year,” said Szybisty. “He’s the consummate Warrior, never giving up and always finding a way to beat his opponent.”
After Pat Egan, a freshman with a bright future, suffered an elbow injury early on in the season line-ups had to be shuffled. Initially, Curtis Strickland was paired with Harper as the number one doubles team because Driskill and number three Connor Thomas were undefeated. Eventually, the prospects of Driskill-Harper having an opportunity to win a championship were too good to pass up.
“Reid is an electric player who couples his athleticism with an intense desire to win,” said the 26-year old head coach. “He’s usually the first one on the court and the last one to leave practice.”
Harper and Driskill form a dynamic duo on the tennis court. Although Harper is more comfortable in the back, setting up Driskill for the smash up front, in reverse roles, Driskill and Harper are capable of playing at the same level. In the doubles championship, Harper had several emphatic smashes at the net against Prince George.
“Brandon and I play so well together because we have the same mentality,” said Driskill. “If one of us is having a down day, we have each other’s backs.”
As good as both Harper and Driskill have been, the team has gotten solid play from up and down the line-up, from Thomas to Strickland to Bridgewater-bound golfer Matthew Padgett. The team will look to win a “triple crown” of sorts as they play for the Conference 12 team championship this week. Both of Matoaca’s top players sing the praises of their coach for a job well done.
“Mr. Szybisty has completely changed Matoaca tennis,” explained Harper, who was a sophomore when the coach arrived. “He’s worked hard coaching us, encouraging us and helping us turn our weaknesses into strengths.”
Save any outcome for the Warriors this week in team competition and upcoming regionals for Harper and Driskill, it would appear as the Warriors have a solid core for next season, with sophomores Egan (returning from injury), Thomas, and junior Blake Miles who has provided a solid presence at the five seed this year.
“While they (Brandon and Reid) have played a significant role in the program, it’s hard to ignore the senior captains whose leadership helped to mold the direction of the team,” Szybisty said.
Matoaca’s season will continue with individual regionals at Mills Godwin, June 5, and team tournaments at higher seeded sites, May 28 and 29. All results will be tweeted @VNewsSports.