CARY – Ryan Heider has uncommon talent as far as North Carolina high school tennis players are concerned. Most players aren’t 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and they don’t have 115 mile-per-hour serves and they don’t bench 315 pounds, deadlift 540, or squat 410.
Most tennis players also don’t get to be state champions — but Heider is a rarity there too: he became one on Saturday.
Heider defeated John Hankinson of Research Triangle, a public charter high school in Research Triangle Park, 6-2, 6-2 to claim the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s 1A singles title and give the school its first individual boys tennis champion in doubles or singles.
“I don’t know that Polk County will ever have another tennis champion, maybe they will,” said 11th-year Wolverines coach Richard Davis said. “But it’s not necessarily a tennis hotbed. But this year it was.”
The win didn’t come easy. Nothing about Heider’s week was, thanks to a bout with the flu that started last week at regionals, reared its head in Tuesday’s team playoff match and peaked during Friday’s quarterfinals and semifinals, also held at Cary Tennis Park.
“Body aches, headache, I mean he was stalling for every second he could stall for in between points,” Davis said. “Bless him, he pulled it together enough to win points. And in between points he was a zombie. His eyes would light up and he’d play a point, and then he’d become a zombie (again).”
In 1A, the individual tennis bracket only has eight entries, which means it opens in the quarterfinals. Heider defeated Raleigh Charter’s Jeremiah Lee 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinals and Research Triangle’s Lucas Trepanier 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals.
An evening of rest and some antibiotics had Heider back, though not 100 percent, for Saturday’s title.
“It’s been a little bit rough. I’ve been fading in a lot of the second sets in a lot of these matches,” Heider said. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, getting my first serves in, but I could definitely tell when I did. Those games went by a lot quicker, a lot easier, and a lot less taxing. So it was very important, getting those first serves in.”
Heider comes from a tennis household. His mother was heavily involved in the tennis community around Lake Norman, just north of Charlotte, and Ryan began his tennis career at Lake Norman High, playing No. 2 singles at the 4A school as a sophomore (where he only lost one singles match).
Then he moved to Polk County, and Wolverine tennis hasn’t been the same since.
Heider never lost a singles match his junior year, but players must choose whether they want to compete in doubles or singles in the postseason. Heider chose doubles, teaming up with his brother Henry, and the two reached the state tournament before losing their opening match.
As a senior, he decided to go for the singles crown.
“As good of a player as he is, he’s always open to suggestions,” Davis said. “I don’t have a harder worker in practice. To be of his ability and still work hard at practice and lead the way for others who are not as good, it feels good. I’m glad for him, and of course, I’m tickled to death for Polk County.”
Heider ends his two-year career with a 40-0 record in singles and inarguably the greatest Wolverines tennis player in school history.
He’s also the only Polk County player to win a West Regional title and first to qualify for the state tournament since 2008.
“I’m really glad I went (to Polk County),” Heider said. “Being on this tennis team has been awesome, school’s been great, and I’ve had a ton of fun playing for Coach Davis and playing with the team. Both of our seasons have been awesome. It’s been a ton of fun.”
He even picked up a new sport while attending PCHS. In his first year of playing football, he caught 25 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns as an all-conference tight end.
Heider said he’ll attend UNC-Chapel Hill next year, but isn’t sure if he’ll try to walk on for Tar Heels tennis, Tar Heels football, or none of the above.
Whatever’s next, he’ll have left behind a previously unwritten chapter of Polk County athletics.