CLAYTON -- Clayton tennis coach Ken Stivason knew he had the potential to have an influx of talent this spring that would give an immediate boost to the Comets’ lineup. He also knew that freshman Klein Evans would possibly lead the team.
What Stivason didn’t know, however, was just how impressive of a season the 14-year-old would put together. Evans’ 2013 season, where he helped the Comets post a 15-2 dual mark, is the best a Johnston County tennis player has put together in more than a decade.
Evans compiled a 23-2 record in singles play on the way to the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference individual singles championship and GNRC player of the year honors. He finished as the individual runner-up in the eastern regional singles tournament, earning him a rare spot in the state individual round of 16.
“I knew coming in, being ranked third in the state in the 14(-year-old)s, he’d be a competitive player,” Stivason said. “He has good ground strokes and was a better volley player than I expected. There are no weaknesses in his ground strokes.”
Evans is the first Johnston County tennis player to qualify for the state championships since 2001 when Brett Calloway, a former Comet standout advanced to the state quarterfinals.
Even the freshman’s losses were productive. He fell to Grey Hamilton of Southern Pines Pinecrest in the regional championship, which went onto the state semifinals. In the state tournament, his loss was to another state semifinalist: Kyle Schlanger of Northwest Guilford.
In the dual team playoffs, Evans had the Comets’ only singles victory in a 5-1 loss to Durham Jordan. Evans, who was an all-region team selection, had few matches in groundstrokes and on rally points. As he did in the regional semifinals against defending regional champion A.J. Stillwell of Wilmington Laney. Said Stivason: “Physically, Klein just wore him down, kept hitting the ball back again and again.”
“The only thing is he needs to grow into his serve,” Stivason said. “The only difference between him and the players that he saw at the state level is they were more mature, older players who can win points outright on their serve. It’s tough to do that when you’re playing guys who are 16-18 years old.”
The natural physical growth that will come for Evans as he starts his sophomore season this coming fall and in future years will make him even more of a threat on the state level. “He’s going to get better and stronger,” Stivason said. “He can already play doubles and playing doubles really helped his volleying in singles play. He got thrust into playing 16-18-year-olds consistently for the first time and he did really well.”
The Comets’ overall future is just as bright thanks to the young talent it featured in its 2013 lineup.
Naren Guha, Clayton’s No. 2 singles player, went 19-3 on the season. He lost to Evans in the finals of the GNRC individual championships and fell to Hamilton in the regional quarterfinals. He was 16-0 in regular-season matches.
Brooks Campbell, the Comets’ No. 3 seed, finished the season with a dozen singles victories. Fourth-seeded Ian Bliss was undefeated in singles matches for the season until the dual team playoffs, posting a 16-1 mark in 2013.
Clayton didn’t graduate a player from its starting lineup this season.
“We have some talented young players for sure,” Stivason said. “The key is for them to continue to work hard in the off-season and grow as players.”