Providence tennis eyes return to top

by C. Jemal Horton

The Providence High boys tennis team had a perfect 10-0 record heading into their regular-season finale against Ardrey Kell this week, and, to be honest, the Panthers’ coach is a little surprised by that.

Not that Katy Judah Walters expected to be mediocre this season.

Since Walters took over the program for the 2006-07 academic year, the Panthers have won a state championship (in her inaugural season) and finished no worse than third in one of North Carolina’s best conferences, the Southwestern 4A, in each campaign. Plus, there was the fact that four of the team’s top six players from last season were returning in 2012.

Still, Walters couldn’t allow herself to imagine her team being unbeaten after 10 matches this year – not with perennial powers such as Charlotte Catholic, Myers Park, Watauga and new heavy hitter Hough on the schedule to that point. She didn’t envision her troops sitting at 6-0 in the Southwestern 4A and needing a single victory over rival Ardrey Kell to earn their first league title since that magical 2007 season.

But that’s exactly where the Panthers were heading into their April 19 meeting with fellow unbeaten Ardrey Kell (12-0, 6-0), which would determined the league’s regular-season champion.

“No, I didn’t really expect this,” Walters said. “We lost my No. 1 and my No. 3 (player) last year – Will Goldberg and Scott Alan Cottrill – to graduation, so I wasn’t sure. We’re still young. We had some guys in new roles.

“But when we played Catholic and then we played Watauga, you could see the talent and how (our players) came together. And they’ve just kept going. I think they’ve far exceeded my expectations.”

The Providence lineup includes John Kruszka, who moved up from the No. 2 slot to No. 1 this season. A relative newcomer, sophomore Michael McGowan, is this year’s No. 2; he was outside the starting lineup last year because he was recovering from a foot injury.

Nicholas Cottrill has been steady in the third spot, while sophomore Matt Coats has been strong in his transition from No. 6 last year to No. 4 in 2012. Walters also lauded the play of junior No. 5 performer Duy Huynh, a junior, and Chinmay Kulkarni, a freshman who is holding down the No. 6 position.

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