This one is a season to remember.
A big congratulations to the South Aiken High School boys’ tennis team for winning the Class AAAA state championship.
The Thoroughbreds had an outstanding season, one that the players and coach Rakesh Jasani likely will never forget.
They posted a 19-1 record that included playoff wins over Blythewood, Summerville, Aiken, Lexington and, finally, Dorman to win the state title at Cayce Fitness & Tennis Center on Saturday.
South Aiken won the Aiken area’s first Class AAAA title by a team since Aiken High’s volleyball team won it all in 2010. It was the first state title for the T-Bred boys’ tennis program since 2000.
South Aiken displayed talent and mettle during its championship playoff run. The Thoroughbreds made quick work of their first three playoff opponents, losing only one match out of 18 played. They were too skilled for their rivals to contend with, as the T-Breds mixed in power serving, blasts from the baseline as well as deftly placed touch shots that found open spots on the court.
South Aiken’s grittiness came through in both the lower state and state championship matches. The T-Breds found themselves trailing in individual matches and saw some of their top players lose. In spite of the challenges of facing vaunted opponents, South Aiken players dug deeper and found a way to win critical matches, sometimes being pushed to the limit of third-set tiebreakers.
No players embodied this mental fortitude matched by skilled shot-making more than Nos. 3 and 4 singles players Preston Tiffany and Petar Zotovic.
In both championship showdowns, they were contesting the last two matches with South Aiken deadlocked with Lexington and Dorman. Both times, Zotovic scratched out a win leaving titles riding on Tiffany’s racquet. Both times the freshman delivered to the delight of teammates, family and friends.
An underrated element to the T-Breds’ success has been the tight-knit relationships between the boys. Tennis is primarily a one-on-one game, but the South Aiken players bonded and created a familial atmosphere. It helps that three of the regulars are brothers, with Petar joined by siblings Marko and Stefan. Beyond that, they’ve been playing together for years and have a real kinship that goes beyond wearing the same colors or attending the same school.
The ultimate compliment that can be paid to the T-Breds is how respected they were by their opponents. The group that included Jordan Dingle, Jonny Bowman, Zach Thatcher, Matthew Willis as well as Tiffany and all three Zotovics was cheered by its opponents.
After dispatching crosstown rival Aiken, the Hornets head coach Steve Smith didn’t waste any time saying he was pulling for the T-Breds, endorsing their chances of winning a state title. He backed up his sentiment by taking in the Lower State championship as a spectator.
Lexington head coach Eric Jackson said he was pulling for the South Aiken team that beat his squad two out of three times this season and ousted it from the playoffs. Just like Smith, at Saturday’s championship, Jackson was on hand to lend his support for the T-Breds.
Congratulations to South Aiken. They are champions of which our community can be proud.