16RichieKingTerry Sanford boys’ tennis coach Gene Autry is still getting over the sting of a 5-4 loss to Matthews Weddington High School in this year’s state 3-A dual team tennis finals.

But one thing that’s making it easier is checking the Bulldog tennis roster as he plans for next season.

“We have only one senior that starts,’’ he said. “That’s Richie King in the six hole.’’

King worked with brothers Henry and Nathan Lieberman to provide Terry Sanford the four wins the Bulldogs scored in the championship match with Weddington. Even with his exit, Terry Sanford will return all the starters at the first five singles positions.

“The Liebermans will only get better with their extensive schedule of summer tournaments,’’ Autry said. 

Another dedicated player is Alex Kasari at third court. Autry said Kasari also is committed to off-season work. He’s also got confidence in the players at the remaining two spots, Andrew Zahran and Dev Sashidar.

The only question left is who will play No. 6 next year. Right now a pair of players who will be seniors next season, Josh Blackman and Michael Hicks, are the leading candidates. Hicks is part of one of the richest bloodlines in Terry Sanford tennis history. 

His mother, Margit Monaco Hicks, teamed with her sister Lisa Monaco Wheless to win the N.C. High School Athletic Association girls’ doubles championship four years in a row back in the 1970s.

When Denzel Wallace took over as softball coach at Fayetteville Christian this season, he thought chances for a state title were solid even though the defending 2-A N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association champ Freedom Christian was in the same town.

“I thought with some hard work, we’d be able to be there at the end,’’ he said. Wallace proved right as Fayetteville Christian met Freedom in the double elimination finals of this year’s state tournament and came away with the victory and a 16-3 record.

Fayetteville was led by sophomore pitcher Morgan Hatchell, who was named the NCISAA 2-A softball player of the year.

“Throughout the season she was steady,’’ Wallace said. “She pitched every game for us and always kept low numbers.’’

Wallace said Hatchell averaged about two earned runs per game. “We knew what we were getting out of her and we knew she would compete to the very end.

“Everybody believed in her ability the whole year to get us there.’’

Looking ahead to the 2018 season, Wallace is optimistic about chances for a repeat.

“Our whole group was young,’’ he said of this year’s team. “We had a couple of seventh graders and an eighth grader starting. I think having the same coach and same group of players, we’ll be able to get a head start on the things we need to.’’ 

Joining Hatchell on the NCISAA 2-A All-State team from Fayetteville Christian were Destiny Smith and Olivia Nieto.

Chosen from Freedom Christian were Makenzie Mason, Haley Nelson, Miranda McKoy, Kendal McCauley and Molly Montgomery. Also selected was Aubrey Griffin of Village Christian.

Photo: Richie King, senior at Terry Sanford, tennis player

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