MURFREESBORO – L&N STEM Academy senior Walker Lee couldn’t have been happier when he left Old Fort Park’s Adams Tennis Complex on Friday afternoon.
Lee earlier teamed with sophomore Campbell Maben to win the Division I Class Small state doubles championship – two days after the Gryphons clinched the boys’ state team title.
It was the first state title for any L&N STEM athletics team, and Lee and Maben added to the trophy case with their doubles championship.
“It feels like it’s been forever, coming here as a freshman and not winning anything up until this year,” Lee said. “It feels like it’s been like the longest time, but it’s a great feeling to win (team) state and then to go through and win doubles to cap it off, it feels even better. I’m happy to leave the L&N like that.”
After winning their doubles match, Lee and his teammates watched L&N STEM sophomore Evan Carr lose in the state singles final, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, to Trinity Christian Academy senior Ben Sidwell.
“I’m beaming with pride (for Carr),” L&N STEM coach Stephen Blythe said. “He had a great, great season.”
Lee and Maben capped off a great week for the Gryphons, who defeated Signal Mountain, 4-0, for the state team title Wednesday.
After winning two doubles matches Thursday, Lee and Maben beat Signal Mountain’s Zach Ottley and Gabriel Williams, 7-6 (3), 7-5, in Friday’s state championship match.
Lee and Maben rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the first set, then trailed 5-6, and forced the tiebreaker.
“We were on during that tiebreak,” Lee said. “It was definitely a good feeling to know that we had won that first set and had one (set) in the bag, but we still had to grind out the next one, but it was definitely a good feeling to win that tiebreak.”
Lee was glad to clinch it in two sets and avoid a third in the grueling heat.
“It was definitely a long (match),” Lee said. “We went into it knowing it would be a tough one because they came in on the other side of the bracket and they had only dropped a few games (four in two matches). We knew it was going to be a long one, and we were glad to get it done in straight sets, that’s for sure.”
Maben is one of three sophomores on the team along his triplet brother, Kieran Maben, and Carr. The Mabens’ sister, Maddie, plays on the L&N STEM girls team.
Lee, who will attend Samford and play club tennis, and Daniel Rogers are the only graduating seniors on the Gryphons’ roster.
“I think that between Evan Carr, Kieran Maben and Campbell Maben, they’re going to be a strong team and tough to defeat,” Lee said, “not to mention we have a couple of other current freshmen that will be sophomores next year who will be playing throughout the summer and playing high school next year, and they’re looking to be solid players as well. I think they still have a very strong potential and the team is in good hands.”
Carr, who finished state runner-up for the second straight year, defeated Sidwell, 6-4, 6-4, in Tuesday’s state semifinals when L&N STEM beat Trinity Christian Academy, 4-0.
Carr called it “my best tennis match I’ve ever played.”
In Friday’s match, Blythe said Carr couldn’t maintain the control he had of had in the first set. He fell behind 1-5 in the second set.
“First set, Evan came out strong,” Blythe said. “I think Ben was struggling a little bit hitting his shots, quite a few unforced errors, and then, it was kind of like a mirror effect for the second set. Evan was hitting a bunch of unforced errors, he was missing shots that nine out 10 times he would make. It frustrated him, but he battled back in the second set.”
Blythe said the third set was tight, and when it was over, Carr drew praise from others.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Blythe said. “He’s an emotional guy, but I think that’s a reason why his game is so strong. He got parents and coaches from Trinity Christian and all over the state coming up and offering their praise of Evan, and they’re pretty much saying, ‘We’re afraid of what he can become in the next two years.’ ”