By Blake Ells
Each year under coach Nathan Miles’ guidance, the Vestavia Hills boys tennis team has gotten closer to its days of dominance – no easy task in an area that has become the state’s most difficult.
This year’s squad finished second at the state tournament, one spot ahead of Mountain Brook, also part of their area and winners of the last four state championships.
“What this group has done, as well as every year that I’ve done this, is they’ve stood on the shoulders of the group that came before and pushed a little further,” Miles said. “It’s been really impressive to watch these kids grow in their sport and as a team. To see them accomplish most of their goals has been fantastic.”
Mobile’s McGill-Toolen was too much to overcome at the top. Brooks and Hallet Green were tournament champions in the first and second seed singles and doubles events, which allowed their team score to edge the Rebels 41-38. Mountain Brook’s third place team score was 27. Oak Mountain finished eighth in the state with a 4.
“I think we were all proud of what we were able to accomplish,” senior Alex Lloyd, the Rebels’ one-seed, said. “We were by far the best team in Birmingham; beating Mountain Brook was a huge accomplishment.”
Lloyd was 1-1 for the state tournament, upsetting Taiga Koyama from James Clemens in the first round in a three-hour, three-set marathon 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.
The Rebels’ Clay Castleberry defeated Jordan Agagan 6-1, 6-4 to become the four-seed state champion. Castleberry, one of four seniors on this year’s team, was seeded for the first time in his high school career. It was just his second season on the high school team.
“These other guys have been on the team since they were freshmen, but it didn’t come that easy for me,” Castleberry said. “I tried out fresh- man and sophomore years and didn’t make the team; I was trying to play two sports. I was trying to run track as well. Junior year, I decided to take a leap of faith and go all out. I quit track and I made the team. I worked my way into a doubles spot and then senior year I was able to get a singles spot.”
Even more remarkably, Castleberry didn’t lose a singles match all season.
“It was incredible,” said Castleberry. “It showed me how much hard work and determination can really pay off when you fully invest yourself into something. (Miles) was a great mentor for me; always making sure that I was mentally ready for my matches. But even before the season started, the way he pushed us on the track, all of our guys worked so hard building mental toughness and working hard and pushing our limits.”
The Rebels five-seed, senior Robert Hill, defeated Auburn’s Andrew Wang 6-2, 6-1 to win state. He said their senior class, responsible for the Rebels’ reemergence, spent years working toward this end.
“Most of us picked up tennis in middle school, sixth or seventh grade,” Hill said. “And we’ve played non-stop since. It was disappointing to finish second, but McGill won all of the matches they needed to win and they came out on top at the biggest moments. They were able to execute when we weren’t.”
Sophomore Sam Smith and junior Jack Kimbrough defeated Auburn’s Wang and Graham Richey 6-3, 6-1 to claim the third-seed doubles state championship. Junior Gray Moore fell to Mountain Brook’s Adam Cabraja 6-2, 6-1 in the third-seed singles championship, while Moore and Hill fell to McGill-Toolen’s Hallet Green and Jeffrey Shock 6-4, 6-4 in the second-seed doubles state championship.
Lloyd will play tennis next season at Rhodes College. Hill will attend Auburn next year, while Castleberry and senior Jimmy Creamer will enroll at Alabama. ❖