The Orange men's tennis team is off to a 6-3 start under head coach Justin Webb

There’s a soft chuckle from Justin Webb when he’s asked how much sleep he gets per night nowadays.

On February 27, he became a father for the second time. Since he’s a tennis fan at heart, he named his newest son “Lleyton” after Lleyton Hewitt, an Australian who won two Grand Slam events in the early 2000s. Four days after Lleyton Webb was born, the Orange men's tennis team started. 

“I get about 5-6 hours a night, on a good night,” Webb said.

After finishing 9-8 last season, Orange has already vaulted to a 5-2 start. Easily the most noteworthy of those wins came on March 11 when the Panthers defeated crosstown rival Cedar Ridge 6-3, Orange’s first victory over the Red Wolves since 2016.

There was an extra intensity in the air that led to a higher quality of play on both ends. Of the six singles matches, three of them went to a 10-point tiebreaker. At #6 singles, Sam Pell won 6-2, 2-6, 10-5. Freshman Colin O’Hagerty, junior Ronan Towell and junior Josh Van Mater also won their singles matches. In doubles, O’Hagerty teamee with Towell for an 8-2 win that ensured a Panther victory. Bassem Elbitar and Pell also earned a win at #3 doubles.

“I think the guys went into the match very focused,” Webb said. “I think they understood that they had a very good chance to win this year. They knew they would have to go out and compete. It was a very tight match. For everyone on the team, it was their first win over Cedar Ridge.”

Orange started the season with a 6-3 victory over Southern Alamance on February 28. After beating Cedar Ridge, the Panthers defeated Northwood 6-3 in Pittsboro on March 13. Senior Daniel O’Shaughnessy earned a straight sets win at #4 singles for the Panthers. Junior Elliott Sikes, Van Mater, and Towell also picked up wins.

The next day, Orange defeated Person 7-2 for its third dual match win in four days.

While East Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill still rule the top of the Big 8 Conference, Orange has made progress in establishing itself among the middle of the pack.

“Typically, Orange, Northwood and Cedar Ridge are all right there together competing for third place,” Webb said. “Going into the season, one of our goals was to try to get wins over Cedar Ridge and Northwood, which hasn’t happened since 2015. To get both of those in one week was a pretty cool experience for the guys.”

As a freshman, O’Hagerty starts at #1 singles.

“He’s been a big boost to the team,” Webb said. “Having a 9th grader that brings a lot of energy and passion to the team. His dedication to the game has rubbed off to a lot of guys.”

As fate would have it, Webb placed freshman Jera Hargraves at #1 singles last fall for the Orange women’s tennis team.

“Sometimes, that’s a tough dynamic,” Webb said. “The number one position has to be your best player, but I do feel like it’s important to help these freshman realize that there are juniors and seniors that have match experience. They’re familiar with these teams and these players are coaching these freshmen. The older players are telling the younger players about who they’re going to play. There’s plenty to learn from these older players.”

With a 5-2 record going into Tuesday’s match against powerhouse Chapel Hill, Webb understands that trying to beat the Big 8 tennis Bluebloods is a long-range goal, but one that is attainable. Orange has only one senior starter.

“I tell my players that we’re so lucky that we get to play Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill every year,” Webb said. “They get to play against two state championship programs. We get to play against them four times. There’s stuff you can take away from that. Sometimes we play our best matches against those teams because we have to. You have to bring your A game when you play them. That translates into really good tennis against other team we play.”