- Thursday, 10 October 2019
- Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
South View•Cross country•Sophomore
Benefield has a weighted grade point average of 4.31. In addition to running cross country for the Tigers, he’s enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Academy at South View.
Pictured from top to bottom: Sierra Gosselin, Jay Benefield
Chris Lucas is in his fifth season as head girls tennis coach at Cape Fear High School.
He inherited a program where most of the players hadn’t played the sport until they went out for the Cape Fear team.
But five years of pushing his players to perform their best reached a peak last month when Cape Fear defeated perennial Cumberland County tennis power Terry Sanford 6-3 in the second meeting between the teams this season.
According to retired Terry Sanford tennis coach and local high school tennis historian Gil Bowman, it was the first time since the 2003-2004 tennis season that Cape Fear won a match over the Bulldogs.
Since coming to Cape Fear from Pinecrest High School, Lucas has been trying to change the tennis culture at the school. It’s a slow process, but the win over Terry Sanford shows Lucas is on the right track.
Lucas said his primary goal is to turn each of his players into a true tennis player and not just an athlete with a tennis racquet in hand. That means watching professional players on television, understanding the strategy and mental aspect of the game and playing as much tournament tennis outside the high school season as possible.
“My biggest hope is they will fall in love with every aspect of the game,’’ he said. “I’m very fortunate I’ve had coachable girls and ones that have bought into that.’’
This year’s team has only one player, freshman Brooke Bieniek, who played the sport before she got to Cape Fear.
Bieniek plays No. 1 singles and won at both singles and doubles in the match with Terry Sanford. Her parents are both physical education teachers at nearby Mac Williams Middle School and got her into the sport at the age of seven.
“I love just hitting shots and getting all the emotions out,’’ she said. “Like if you had a bad day at school you just hit and hit a ball. It’s fun. Especially with teammates.’’
She gives all the credit for the team’s success to Lucas. “He’s taught us a lot of stuff and made us what we are today,’’ she said.
Lucas said that’s part of his philosophy, which he sums up in the phrase, "Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn."
“Every single match is a match where you can learn,’’ he said. “We broke down why we won that match, what we did right and what we didn’t do before.’’
Senior Paige Cameron, who plays No. 2 singles, agreed with Bieniek and said Lucas has always encouraged the team, even when they lost a match 9-0.
“Everything he’s done has pushed us to where we were when we finally beat them (Terry Sanford),’’ Cameron said. “Honestly, that was the best night because that’s what we’ve been looking forward to, beating Terry Sanford, and we finally did it.’’
Cameron, who is the team captain, said the energy the team got from newcomers like Bieniek was a big boost to this year’s team.
“The biggest energy is them being positive whether they are playing or not,’’ she said, “showing support for all the girls.’’
Dajia Rucker, a junior, won at fifth court singles and teamed with Bieniek to win in doubles against Terry Sanford. “Everyone just stepped up,’’ she said. “We knew we wanted to beat Terry Sanford, so that’s what we did.’’
But the Colts know they must keep working. “I think the main thing is we don’t take this one for granted,’’ Cameron said. “We need to play with the best we have and do the best that we can no matter who we are playing.’’
Meanwhile, Lucas is looking further down the road, hoping to continue to change the tennis culture not just at the school but in the community.
“Every summer, we hold a clinic for kids, ages 7-13, and every year it’s grown,’’ he said. “The younger we can get them, the better. We want to be a program that turns in good team after good team and is a revolving door,’’ he said.
Pictured from top to bottom: Brooke Bieniek, Paige Cameron, Dajia Rucker
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association estimates there are over 200,000 student-athletes playing for high school teams across the state.
Every year, 16 students are chosen to represent their peers on the Student Athlete Advisory Council.
This elite group of sophomores and juniors represents every region of the state and serves as the voice for all the state’s athletes, reporting directly to the NCHSAA at both a regional and state level.
This year’s SAAC includes two students from Jack Britt High School, E.J. McArthur and Colin Baumgartner. McArthur plays basketball and is the son of Britt girls’ basketball coach Nattlie McArthur.
Baumgartner competes in indoor and outdoor track, cross country and swimming.
Both are looking forward to serving on the committee and are ready to come to the table with ideas to make things better for their fellow athletes.
McArthur has already had a taste of what the SAAC does. This summer the NCHSAA sent him and some other SAAC members to a national meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the headquarters of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
They learned about problem-solving, leadership and the Unified Sports program that is designed to increase interscholastic sports opportunities for special needs students.
“One of my main goals is to get Unified Sports in all schools, not just Cumberland County, but all of North Carolina,’’ McArthur said.
While in Indianapolis the SAAC members worked with special needs children. McArthur was moved by the looks on their faces when they got the opportunity to participate in sports.
Another concern for McArthur is sportsmanship. He and Baumgartner attended the recent Region 4 meeting of the NCHSAA held in Fayetteville. During the meeting they learned that no Cumberland County School managed to avoid having a player or coach ejected from an athletic contest during the 2018-19 school year.
“We want to form an initiative to get that (the number of ejections) down,’’ McArthur said. “Respect the refs, respect the rules. Do what you have to do as an athlete, but do it accordingly.’’
He thinks it’s important that the NCHSAA is open to getting input from student-athletes. “Adults don’t really understand what students want the way students understand what we want,’’ McArthur said. “Having this committee is better because they have a direct outlet to student-athletes.’’
Baumgartner agrees. “I feel like there’s a lot of situations where we might see things going on that might not be seen at a higher level,’’ he said.
Baumgartner wants more attention to sports not often in the spotlight. One where he has a personal interest is swimming.
He is concerned about access county swimmers have to indoor pools, noting they practice at times in outdoor pools covered by an inflatable dome that sometimes collapses and causes problems.
He also has a concern about alcohol abuse by his fellow students and thinks more needs to be done by students to curb the problem.
“We shouldn’t go to a party one day and a funeral the next,’’ he said. “Having a peer tell you something I think gives it a deeper meaning and a different perspective.’’
L-R: Jack Britt students and SAAC members E.J. McArthur and Colin Baumgartner