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All-Area boys tennis - Stilwell welcomes high-intensity tennis to lead Bucs


Laney's A.J. Stilwell at the Carolina Beach arcade on the boardwalk. (Photo by Mike Spencer)


By McLeod Brown

Sports@StarNewsOnline.com



AJ Stilwell understands the pressures and expectations.

He knows the territory that comes with being one of the best high school tennis players in the state.

However, the Laney High School senior did not let that faze him when it came time to compete.

"There are high expectations for me each year," said Stilwell, the StarNews' All-Area Player of the Year. "I always want to do better than the year before. Every time I go on that tennis court, I think to myself, ‘Just have a calm attitude and play the game.'"

This relaxed demeanor led to great success on the court for Stilwell. Playing at No. 1 singles and doubles as a junior for the Buccaneers this season, he was a key reason for Laney's breakthrough season in the Mideastern Conference.

He helped the Bucs to their first trip to the quarterfinals of the Class 4A team tournament and won the East regional in the individual tournament.

"Winning regionals was a good experience," said Stilwell, the current No. 7 singles player in the state for boys' 18 singles. "It was really exciting. I couldn't have done it without my team being there supporting me. Coming out of the conference tournament, losing in the finals, it was hard. I wanted to work on some things and wanted to win so bad I'd do anything."

Stilwell has seemingly breezed through the competition since entering high school; he's a three-time Mideastern Conference player of the year and also the StarNews All-Area Player of the Year as a freshman. Instead of letting his accomplishments go to his head, however, Stilwell credits others for his success.

"I had a great team this year to help me out," said Stilwell. "I have so many friends on that team and they've been really supportive to me. When I was down in matches, they would pick me up and I would pump them up, too. That's how we won matches."

As his senior season approaches, Stilwell looks to punctuate his high school career with another successful campaign.

"I just have to work harder than ever and be a good leader for my teammates for next year," said Stilwell. "We have to do well in regionals and states. There are times when it's hard but then I look on the other side of the court and see my teammates going through the same things and I just think to myself, ‘I can do this.'"

All-Area Boys Tennis

A.J. Stilwell, Jr., Laney (Player of the Year): Class 4A East Regional singles champion, 13-3 regular-season record, led Laney to the fourth round of the state playoffs.

Alex Gaines, Sr., New Hanover: Played No. 1 singles for Wildcats and won the Mideastern Conference singles tournament.

Alex Gianoplus, Jr., Cape Fear Academy: Won an NCISAA Class 2A state championship at No. 3 singles.

Rob High, Jr., Cape Fear Academy: No. 1 player for Hurricanes won NCISAA Class 2A state championship at No. 1 singles, led CFA to its fifth straight team state championship.

Noah Milliken, Sr., Hoggard: Hoggard's No. 1 player won the NCHSAA Class 4A East Regional in doubles with Matt Johnson.

Mic Reinhart, Sr., Topsail: Undefeated in East Central play in both singles and doubles in his first year playing for Topsail.

All-Conference Teams

All-Mideastern Conference

First Team: Grant Dunlop, New Hanover; Jordan Frazier, Rose; Mathew Harris, Ashley; Chase Horton, Hoggard; Matt Johnson, Hoggard; Jay King, New Bern; J.R. King, New Hanover; Jake McDonough, Laney; Noah Milliken, Hoggard; Drew Porcelli, Laney; Mark Reed, Rose; Paul Richardson, New Hanover; William Schoolfield, Laney; A.J. Stilwell, Laney; Ethan Tello, Ashley

Second Team: Corbin Cook, New Bern; Stephen Gay, Rose; Reid Gilbert, Laney; Alex Johnson, New Hanover; Evan Linett, Hoggard; Charlie Mann, New Hanover; Charlie Opper, Hoggard; Patrick Ryder, Laney; Evan Tello, Ashley

Player Of The Year: A.J. Stilwell, Laney. Coach Of The Year: Ruby Sutton, Laney. Team Sportsmanship Award: Laney

All-Waccamaw Conference

First Team: Carlos Mateos, North Brunswick; Edwin Burnett, South Brunswick; Patrick Evans, South Brunswick; Gabe Azzato, South Brunswick; Thomas Godwin, South Columbus; Keith Gore, South Columbus; Jared Allen, West Bladen; Jason Watts, West Brunswick; Jason Huff, West Brunswick; Devin Cokley, Whiteville; Clark Owens, Whiteville

Second Team: Gabe Self, North Brunswick; Caleb Stanley, South Brunswick; Noah Pieper, South Brunswick; Joey Kronenwetter, South Brunswick; Austin Chapman, South Columbus; Alston Ray, South Columbus; Chris Lemmings, West Bladen; Lance Watts, West Brunswick; Seth Strickland, West Brunswick; Adam Bastug, Whiteville; Evan Priest, Whiteville

All-East Central Conference

Topsail – Parks Tompkins, Brady Trevisan, Kirk Robertson, Foster Hawkins. East Duplin – Hunter Lane, Dallas Hollingsworth, Ben Jones. Croatan – David Beard, Justin Merrell. Swansboro – Anthony Brennan, Robby Proctor. Clinton – Aaron Viser. Richlands – Kyle Colon. Northside – Bryce Daley

Player of the Year: David Beard, Croatan. Coach of the Year: Doug Sheaffer, Croatan.