The sun beats down during a humid May afternoon, and the heat of Clinton High School’s acrylic court isn’t the only thing that’s rising. The Dark Horse men’s tennis team’s determination is soaring with each swing of the racket during Tuesday’s practice. With an overall record of 16-2 entering a crucial match Wednesday, the team had extreme confidence in its abilities — and it showed.
“It’s been a fantastic season,” starts Coach Robert Jones, looking on at the practice matches from a shaded treeline. “You got aspirations of how high you can go, and I never set goals of ‘we can make this round or that round’, because you never know how we’re gonna match up with people from other conferences. I just focus on getting better every day and the team doing the best they can.”
Their last game at North Johnston stands as an example of the team’s excellent play, especially given that this is the farthest the Dark Horses have advanced in tennis in school history. The 5-1 win out of six singles was a resounding win, not folding over into doubles. Jones testified to this: “We played about as good as we can play. No other way to say it.”
Speaking to the players, the importance of their current position stands out.
“Most of the people out here are in their first year,” said junior Trevor Leggett. “It reflects on Coach Jones so well, that he’s taken all these first-year players and turned us into a good team in just one year.”
Running drills and the supportive influence of Jones’ coaching style is palpable.
“They know I’ll hit with them. I’m still a player, even as their coach. I’m a player, played for over 20 years — tournaments, leagues, you name it. So they know I’ve been in their shoes.”
His hands-on approach stands out. He serves to the players, weaving firm corrections gently into the practice’s fast-paced conversation as the team, round-robin style, returns his serves. The momentum never drops and the team is always engaged. There’s an open thread of communication across the court.
As for the future?
“We’ll go in, play hard and see what happens,” Jones acknowledged.
Their next game is the regional final, up against the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham. That match was set for Wednesday with a berth in the state championship on the line.
Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at email@example.com.