Owen tennis tries to feel the 'love' in the Western Highlands Conference

Warhorses 7-0 in conference heading into final match

Fred McCormick

The Owen Warhorses have been a force on the tennis courts this season. After a busy final week of the regular season, they were (11-3 or 12-2) and winners of (six of their last seven or seven straight) matches.

As the team rode the bus to Newland on April 24 for its final match of the season, against Western Highlands Conference foe Avery (results not available as of deadline), it was looking to hoping to finish 8-love in the WHC.

A year ago the Warhorses finished 4-4 in conference play en route to a 5-9 season overall. They opened the 2017 season with a 6-3 loss to North Buncombe, which beat Owen handily 9-0 in their only contest a year ago.

The play of Gabriele Talin, the Warhorses' number 1 seeded player this season, has been a key to the team's turnaround this season.

After an 0-1 start to the season, the Warhorses started winning, reeling off five straight victories.

“We knew we’d have a strong team and we’d be pretty deep,” said Chuck Robinson, the sixth-year head coach of the Warhorses. “With the team we had coming back and some of the new guys coming on the team we knew we could have a special season.”

The Warhorses followed up the loss to North Buncombe with wins over 3-A Enka and the first-year program at Asheville Christian Academy. During the next three matches, Owen handled Avery, Hendersonville and Polk by a combined score of 21-5.

That five-game winning streak was snapped with a 5-4 loss against Reynolds in March 27. Two days later the Warhorses were back to their winning ways, improving to 4-0 in the WHC with an 8-1 win over Polk.

Joseph Frith moves into the lead over an Enka tennis player in the Warhorses' 8-1 home win over the Jets on April 18.

“Our conference isn’t weak by any means,” Robinson said. “There may be some teams having a down year this year, but our conference is always competitive.”

The arrival of April brought the most dominant stretch of the season for the Warhorses, which dispatched last year’s conference champion Mountain Heritage twice in three days. Sandwiched between those two games was an 8-1 win over Hendersonville, giving Owen a 7-0 record in the conference and ensuring the first regular season conference championship for team from the school this year.

Senior Micah Davis leaves his feet to return a volley on his way to a 10-1 victory against Enka on April 18.

A significant factor in the Warhorses’ success this year is the play of Gabriele Talin, a foreign exchange student at Owen who went 6-6 as the team’s number 1 seeded player in 12 matches.

“Gabe's play has been huge for us," Robinson said. "We went through our challenge matches early in the season, so we didn't just put him there, he earned that spot. He's gotten even better for us as the season has gone on."

Talin's play has helped elevate the team's core of senior players who play in the middle of the team's lineup. Micah Davis had yet to lose a match and sported an individual record of 12-0 playing in the third and fourth slots as of April 20. Elias Peters was 11-0 in the fifth and sixth positions in the same period.

"The guys seem to fighting harder this year and you can see that on the court," Robinson said. "They had success early against bigger teams and winning the conference helped them gain a lot of confidence too. They've all been putting in the work."

That work paid off for the Warhorses in their final home match of the regular season against North Buncombe on April 19, which they won 5-4. The win was a special one for Robinson.

"I was the tennis coach at North Buncombe Middle School for seven years," said Robinson, who lives in the North Buncombe district. "The (North Buncombe) group we played this year is the last group of middle schoolers I had when I was there."

The day after their regular season finale against Avery the Warhorses head to Columbus for the conference tournament at Polk. Robinson believes his team is poised to continue its success into the postseason.

"This is exactly where we want to be," Robinson said.