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Decatur High School’s boys tennis team makes a playoff run

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Decatur High School’s boys tennis team makes a playoff run

The tennis team celebrates its region championship after a 5-0 victory against Tucker (From left to right: David McFarland, Josh Dressler, Eli Cauthorn, Julian Lagon, Joel Duda, David Messer, Luke Atkinson, Christian Lagon, Dylan Cooper, and Rocco DiCarlo)

Editor’s note: David McFarland is a member of the DHS boys tennis team

By David McFarland, contributor 

Decatur, GA — It’s the end of an era at Decatur High School’s Boys’ Tennis team, but only the start of a playoff run.

Led by four seniors and pillars of the team, including both team captains, the Bulldogs were crowned 5A Region 4 champions last week to claim Decatur’s first region title in long time with a perfect 4-0 region record. The real work, however, is only just beginning, as Decatur prepares to make one big splash before its four seniors depart and the curtain closes on this era of the Bulldogs. Its focus is now on its State Playoffs Round of 32 opener against Harris County this Tuesday at Glenlake Tennis Center at 2:30 p.m..

Decatur has always been a talented team capable of making any opponent sweat, but time and time again it fell just short of putting it all together and taking down some of the giants in high school tennis. That’s changed this season, and look no further than its 14-2 overall record for evidence. For first-year Head Coach David Messer, the keys to Decatur’s success this season have been the “dedication” shown by the players to “never giving up on a point, a game, or a set.”

Decatur’s team spirit and connection have pushed it to higher and higher heights. The majority of the team has played together for three seasons at Decatur and long before that outside of school, creating a strong “chemistry” according to co-captain and senior Luke Atkinson. He said that’s created an environment with “everyone encouraging each other, and team dinners afterward,” according to fellow captain and senior Dylan Cooper. Coach Messer went on to describe the “bond” shown by the players and the “great support system” throughout the team that has been molded over the years.

That’s evident in practice, where Cooper describes how the team “knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses” and has improved “a long way since the beginning of the season.” That teamwork doesn’t stop at practice either, however, and no matter what, “when you’re on the court the whole team has your back and is cheering you on.”

This chemistry is also visible off the court as much as on it. The team has created an Instagram account (@dhsmenstennis) to chronicle their experiences across the season, featuring everything from post-match interviews to a victory swim in the Chattahoochee River. While ultimately just for fun and documenting the more comedic aspects of Decatur’s season, the account has also been important in connecting the team. Atkinson describes how it “has brought the team closer together in a way and is something that we can all laugh about.” It’s this atmosphere that has been one of the main reasons behind Decatur’s success this season, but not quite the biggest.

Senior Julian Lagon and Freshman Juan Parrilla confer during a match against North Atlanta – via @kesonthedhspics on Instagram

All the chemistry in the world can only go so far without talented tennis players, but when both are abundant, it’s the perfect storm. That’s the case this season, as Decatur’s junior and senior heavy team reaches its peak at the perfect time. The Bulldogs have a cast of “really solid players” that have helped Decatur beat anyone this season.

“There are a good amount of teams out there with a better No. 1 singles player, but I don’t think there are many teams out there with better depth than us,” according to Atkinson, and both he and Cooper pointed to how Decatur’s line two doubles team. “David and Joel have won every match at that position, being a very reliable asset to the team,” in large part thanks to a “strong friendship on and off the court.”

The two have played together since the 2021 season, and are the perfect example of the intersection between Decatur’s chemistry and quality. Cooper adds on that the addition of freshman Juan Parrilla to the team has added “a lot of talent” to the team as well.

That’s led to moments like a 3-2 victory over Marist, the high school tennis version of a dynasty. Atkinson “realized that we were a legit team and had real potential to win state,” after the win, and Decatur hasn’t looked back since.

The Bulldogs’ season hasn’t been without its obstacles either, some good and some bad. For one, Cooper pointed out Decatur’s transportation struggles as a major impediment. The team was not allocated a school bus, making it “challenging to get the whole team” to away matches that sometimes ranged over an hour away. On the other hand, just picking a starting lineup with so many talented players to choose from was a dilemma for Coach Messer, albeit a very welcome one that has found a solution with a “good lineup that works and everyone is happy with” according to Atkinson, and just in time for the playoffs.

Nonetheless, the job is far from finished. From Coach Messer to Atkinson to Cooper, one thing was clear; Decatur is aiming for the very top and “come home with the State Championship,” as Coach Messer said. The Bulldogs “believe we can win the whole thing,” according to Cooper, confident that the team’s work over not only the last season but also the years prior has them prepared for whatever comes next.

Atkinson declares that the “talent and the chemistry” are there, so it’s up to Decatur “to go out there and execute,” the way it’s done so many times this season.

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