It was a case of newcomer vs. veteran on Wednesday as first-year Sumter High School varsity boys tennis head coach Warren Coker led his young squad against legendary Manning High School head coach Kay Young's Monarch squad for a second time this season.
This day, however, would mark Coker's last opportunity to coach against Young, who will be stepping down from her coaching and teaching duties with Clarendon School District 2 after the current school year.
Manning ended up with a 6-1 victory at the Sumter High courts.
Young has been the face of the MHS tennis program for more than three decades, starting the girls program in 1985 and taking over the boys program in 1992. Coker, the son of longtime East Clarendon High School head softball and volleyball coach Judy Coker, said it was a great privilege to coach against someone that he has truly admired through the years.
"I've known Kay for many, many years, through my mother coaching, and I've always respected everything she has done," Coker said. "She does a great job with everything she does. You can tell the kids respond to her well, and she has coached them very well. I have the utmost respect for her, and it's always fun to coach against people that you really have a lot of admiration for and give it a go."
SHS battled its way through three tight matches, going to tiebreakers in No. 1 and 2 singles, but had only one win to show for its efforts as Briggs Berry outlasted DayQuin Harrison 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 10-3 in the No. 2 slot.
Julian Richardson, stepping up to play No. 1 singles for the first time, dropped the first set to Eli Witt before rallying for a 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 10-3 win. The No. 2 doubles was also very competitive, with Xavier Gibson and Hane Mitchum coming through for the Monarchs in a 7-5, 6-4 tussle over Cameron Tomlin and Brady Black.
"I thought our kids played really well," Young said of her team's win. "I was proud of Julian stepping up after dropping the first set and coming back and winning, having to win it in two tiebreaks, and my other kids did a really good job."
MHS won fairly comfortably in the other singles matches, with Nathaniel Devitt downing Tyler Smithhart 6-3, 6-0 in No. 3, Brandon Thomas-Burgess victorious over Lance Gould 6-2, 6-1 in No. 4 and Josh Epps handling Austin McDuffie 6-4, 6-0 in No. 5.
With the Gamecocks' normal No. 1 doubles duo of Witt and Berry both being stretched in long singles matches, Coker paired Smithhart and Gould against Devitt and Josh Pugh, with the Manning duo notching an 8-1 pro-set win.
Young said she has been impressed with the job Coker has done in guiding the Gamecocks to a playoff berth in his first season at the helm. SHS stands at 4-11 overall and 4-6 in Region VI-5A, with two wins apiece over Carolina Forest and Conway.
"He's done a great job with these kids. He's really doing a good job," Young said. "These kids are awesome kids, and he's got a better record than I had the first year, even with the girls. I can remember starting the program thinking our goal was to win points, then games, then sets. He's done all that this year, so he's done a great job."
The Monarchs, who stand at 3-7 overall, have faced some tough challenges in region play, dropping two matches each to Bishop England and defending state champion Hanahan, but will enter the playoffs as a No. 3 seed going against No. 2 seed Georgetown. Before that, MHS hosts Lugoff-Elgin today and Oceanside Collegiate on Monday.
While still coming up short against Young in his team's second effort against the Monarchs, Coker could see improvement over a 7-0 season-opening setback at Manning.
"I have eight really great guys," Coker said. "They have shown me a lot of what they are -- their character and their upbringing -- and you can tell these kids are just great kids. They've handled themselves in wins and defeats with great charisma. They're gracious winners and they take a defeat and learn from it, so I can't say enough about the type of character that my guys have. I'm excited for them, that they did get enough wins to get into the playoffs ... and I'm glad they've got the chance to take it at least one step further."
As a No. 4 seed entering the 5A state playoffs, the Gamecocks will face off against the No. 3 seed from Region VII. SHS closes regular season play with a home match Monday against Darlington.