Kelly Davis will remember the 2014 season for more reasons than what happened on the tennis court.
Sure, the second-year Riverside Military Academy coach led the Eagles to another unbeaten regular season and their first state quarterfinals appearance.
Riverside finished 14-1 after a playoff loss to eventual Class AA state champion Westminster. The Eagles won the Region 8-AA championship, as well.
Seeing the players’ response after defeating Jefferson for the region championship may have been the highlight of the season for Davis.
“That was a really special moment for the seniors,” Davis said. “Seeing the joy when we won the clinching match, as a coach, that’s all you can ask is young men seeing all their hard work had paid off and a great reward for winning a region championship.”
Davis had ambitious goals for his group heading into the year: Win a region title, go deeper in the playoffs than it did in 2014, have fun, understand what it’s like to be a part of a team doing something special and win a state championship.
Outside of the state title, which only one school in each classification comes away with each season, Riverside checked the box on each of those. The formula for that success wasn’t complicated, according to Davis.
“It really just comes down to the basics and the fundamentals of the game,” Davis said. “That’s what we did every day.”
Davis has guided the Eagles to a 28-2 mark in two seasons since coming to Riverside from Dunwoody. The growth of a group that was sophomores and juniors when he arrived stands out to Davis.
“They really bought into our program about work ethic and respecting each other on the team,” Davis said. “They came to work every day. When we came to practice, they knew it was business.”
As the Eagles’ kept piling up victories on the tennis court, the excitement around the team was a constant on the Riverside campus.
“It was kind of like a World Cup experience here on campus. Kids were always coming up and saying ‘good luck to the tennis team.’ It was unbelievable the support we were getting,” Davis said. “It was really special going through the season, everyone wanting to know what the next match was going to be.”
While practices and matches were serious, Davis said his team had fun on road trips and built a strong camaraderie that extended beyond the court.
Two Eagle players are set to continue their tennis careers on the next level. Merritt Wilburn has signed with The Citadel, and Josh Haughton is slated to be a preferred walk-on at Georgia State.
Meanwhile, Riverside’s coach can’t help but be proud of all his players accomplished in 2014.
“How they grew as young men was unbelievable both on and off the court,” Davis said.