Regardless of what happens, Spalding has already won in more ways than one this season.
First, there is the obvious. Not only has the team won the second boys region title in school history and first since 2006, it has also far eclipsed any of its predecessors by going at least four rounds deep into the state playoffs — well ahead of the team’s previous best run of two rounds set in 2002 and matched in 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Second, there is the team’s off-court performance.
“These kids are not just athletes or students — they are student athletes,” Crawford said of his seven starters — Brett Piland, Hez Apperson and Colby Willis in the one through three singles, and Andrew winter and Daniel Blake at No. 1 doubles and Ben Eady and Barrett Lavender at No. 2 doubles — who are all honor roll students. “That, right there, is the essence of what it is supposed to be.”
Oh, by the way, six of them also take advanced-placement courses.
“The GPA’s of everyone of them is outstanding,” said Crawford. “They are what you look for in the perfect student-athlete. All take their athletics serious and I never, never have to worry about them.”
All the brains haven’t seemed to get in their way on the court, either. Six are state ranked.
“Barrett is the only one not ranked because he’s a freshman,” said Crawford.
Everyone, except for Eady, take private lessons during the offseason.
“Ben’s No. 1 sports is basketball and he has recently discovered football,” said Crawford. “Tennis is his third sport.”
Crawford said he expects the team’s top player, Piland, only a sophomore, to crack the top 50 at some point this year in the rankings.
That brings us back to this morning where with each victory Spalding will break new ground. But victories will be at a premium.
North Springs is ranked No. 2 in the state for good reason. If ranking mean anything, the Spartans have proven they are a true No. 2 by traveling down the toughest road to the state semifinals of the four remaining teams. Their path has included disposing of No. 5-ranked Carrollton 4-1 in the opening round, No. 7- ranked Oconee County 3-1 in the second round and No. 3-state ranked St. Pius X 3-1 in the state quarterfinals.
Conversely, Spalding’s path has included eliminating Thomson 5-0 in the first round, unranked Howard 4-0 in the second round and Westside-Augusta 4-1 in the quarterfinals.
On the other side of the bracket, unranked West Laurens has defeated three unranked teams to reach the semifinals, while No. 1-ranked Woodward Academy polished off an unranked teams in the first round before laying waste to No. 9-ranked Gainesville 4-1 in the second round and No. 4-ranked Lagrange 4-1 in the quarterfinals.
Spalding and North Springs are required to report to the facility at The Beach and be ready to play by 10:15 a.m. They will be placed on courts as they become available and should be on the courts no later than 11:30 a.m., according to Crawford who coached the Spalding High girls tennis teams to the state semifinals in 2009 and 2010.