Teams in this post:

Panthers revel in perfect tennis season

Ledford’s Elizabeth Stroup chases down a shot during a tennis match earlier this year. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)

After wrapping up the regular season with another 9-0 victory, this time over North Forsyth, Ledford’s tennis team capped off the regular season with a perfect 19-0 record. That would be enough to make most coaches sit down and take a deep breath.

Randy Grimes isn’t most coaches.

The Panthers’ head man, in his 17th season on the job, is 50-something going on 20, and it rubs off on his program. The Panthers are traditionally very good, but someone in the Mid-Piedmont Conference (usually Asheboro) stands in the way of their perfection. This year is different, and Grimes — who bounces around like a pinball in overdrive — couldn’t be any happier.

He has a freshman, Taylor Freeman, at No. 1 singles. Elonah Jones, at No. 2 singles, and Logan Allen, at No. 6 singles, are the only two seniors in the starting rotation. Elizabeth Stroup, a sophomore, starts at No. 3 singles, and Erin Crotts and Emma Caroline Russell, at 3 and 4, are both juniors.

Ledford blew through the MPC with a 10-0 record, and none of those matches were even close. Teams could consider it a moral victory if one player won a match against the Panthers; most nights, a 9-0 result was all but a foregone conclusion.

Grimes has dug through the school’s record books, and he believes this is the first Panthers squad to sniff perfection. “I figured maybe one of the golf teams, with John Ralls, or maybe some of those hot basketball teams,” he said. “But so far, we can’t find any sports team, period, that has gone undefeated at Ledford.

“So we’re getting ready to make us some school history.”

With the dual team state tournament coming up in two weeks, and individual competition approaching in the meantime, Grimes didn’t want to blow every opponent out of the water. He understands that competition makes you better, and he hoped to line up some tough nonconference opponents as the season wore on. But none of those hopes came through, so the Panthers kept right on rolling.

Despite the fact they have been able to set the cruise control in most matches fairly quickly, Grimes isn’t worried about his team’s preparation for the postseason. “The first of the season, I would have said yes,” Grimes explained. “But the way these girls have hunkered down the last three weeks, they have bought into my concept that we play everybody exactly the same.

“Their footwork is impeccable. Their aggression is impeccable. These girls have settled down, and are playing by far the best tennis of the year.”

Grimes knows things will get very serious, very quickly when the playoffs start. After earning the MPC’s second seed last year, the Panthers were bounced by Burlington Williams in the first round of the playoffs.

He does not deny, that may very well happen again this season. Grimes understands, when you’re dealing with teenage athletes, a bad day can happen any time. “I know these girls are gonna give me 100 percent every time they go out there, and that’s all I care about,” he said. “If these girls leave it all on the court right there, I don’t care about the score.”

Grimes’ positive attitude is a big reason for the Panthers’ perennial success. There is certainly strength in numbers, and this year is no different — there are 18 to 20 players on the Panthers’ roster every season, and Grimes believes his 7 and 8 players (junior Audry Hunt and sophomore Katie Wilson) are good enough to start almost anywhere. He believes his numbers are always up because, besides learning a sport that may be new to some of them, the program has a good reputation in the community.

“That’s all I want, is 100 percent effort,” he continued. “Have some fun, give it all you’ve got, and leave everything on that court.

“So when you get up out of that bed in the morning, you have absolutely no regrets.”

Tennis has taken a nosedive in communities all over, and there are patches of Davidson County that are prime examples of that. West Davidson and Central Davidson have improved, but North Davidson, East Davidson and Lexington all struggle to put a competitive team on the court. All of those programs have seen some turnover in the coaching staffs over the years, something that prospective players at Ledford don’t have to worry about.

“The girls at Ledford know that we’re gonna have fun,” Grimes said. “As long as these kids are having fun, they’re gonna play hard. They don’t like being dictated to, they don’t like a tennis team being run as a business. And they don’t like being barked at.

“The kids at the middle school hear about how much fun it is to play tennis over at Ledford, and all of a sudden every year I’ve got 2, 3, 4 freshmen coming over from the middle school. I don’t cut anybody, so they know they’re gonna make the team. They know they can come in and make a good team and have a good time.”

The Panthers usually have a good time, but going undefeated — that’s about as good as it gets.

Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or