Riverside Military saw its perfect season hit a roadblock last year in the second round of the state tennis playoffs.
Facing similar circumstances this time around, the Eagles barreled right on through, all the way to history.
Riverside cruised to a 3-0 win over Model High on Monday in Gainesville to earn the program’s first trip to the state quarterfinals and brush aside the memories of last season’s season-ending 5-0 loss to Lovett.
The Eagles (14-0) will advance to face perennial state title favorite Westminster (16-1) later this week.
“As a senior, of course, it’s really important for me to see the team move forward and grow, not just as a team but also as young men, building up confidence on and off the court,” said team captain and No. 1 singles player Merritt Wilburn, who is set to attend The Citadel on a tennis scholarship.
“A lot of these guys were on the team with me last year and we had a tough loss against Lovett, and it just feels good to be in a better situation this year.”
Wilburn led the way against Model with a quick 6-0, 6-0 victory in his No. 1 singles match.
Sophomore Sipho Khoza was close behind with his own 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 2 singles, and the No. 1 doubles team of
Drew Eidson and Josh Haughton put the finishing touches on the victory with a 6-1, 6-3 win.
Eagles coach Kelly Davis described Eidson and Haughton as “the heartbeat of the team” this season.
“They’re a great combination,” Davis said. “They feed off each other and play really well.
“They don’t let a bad shot take them down for a game, or let a (bad) game turn into a set. They stay fired up and pump each other up a lot.”
Davis has led Riverside to a 28-1 record over the past two seasons since joining the program from Dunwoody High.
He credited the Eagles’ hard work and the continuity they have been able to establish as the driving forces behind their recent success.
“I’m proud of the kids; they’ve worked really hard this year,” Davis said. “This was one of the goals, to move further, so we’re really excited about the opportunity to play in the third round.”
But the Eagles now face the unenviable task of trying to dethrone Westminster, which has collected 42 state championships in program history. The Wildcats’ lone loss this year came against Class AAAAAA power Walton in the season opener.
Wilburn, however, believes Riverside is mentally prepared for the challenge.
“We’re pretty confident right now,” Wilburn said. “I feel like the team has been getting better and better throughout each match. If we play our game, I believe very strongly we can play with anyone. ... It’s all up for us to grab.”