West Tennis is a Gallant Galactic Gallian Battalion - TribPapers

West Tennis is a Gallant Galactic Gallian Battalion

Top seed Drake Gallian led West Henderson to three team playoff victories. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Mills River – West Henderson Falcons sparkled again across various boys’ and girls’ sports in 2023-24, as they did in 2022-23. Last year, West finished third in in Wells Fargo Cup standings among 3A schools statewide, in terms of many deep playoff drives. The N.C. High School Athletic Association did not release Cup results until September. The 2023-24 statewide results are not yet in.

The NCHSAA awards Wells Fargo Cup points solely for each round advanced in playoffs per team sport, rather than also for regular-season titles won. West is impressive in both regards. Falcon teams won Mountain Seven titles in 2023-24 in such team sports as football, baseball, girls’ basketball, softball, girls’ soccer, boys’ soccer, and boys’ tennis. West shared crowns in volleyball and boys basketball.

Tennis Falcons

Falcon male tennis players, coached by Allen Combs, contributed to the school’s overall success. They won three playoff team matches. They ended 16-1 in dual team play, including a perfect 12-0 in the Mountain Seven Conference.

First, they trounced West Rowan 7-2. Next, they eliminated North Henderson 5-1 on May 6. The Falcons won enough singles matches to clinch victory. The three doubles matches were irrelevant to the final outcome, and were thus scrapped.

West second seed Julian Stolevski gave up two or fewer total games in most of his singles matches. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
West second seed Julian Stolevski gave up two or fewer total games in most of his singles matches. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

West edged Lake Norman Charter 5-4, also at home. The season ended with a 5-1 loss at Hickory on May 13.


Drake Gallian has been West’s tennis stallion, as the number one seed in singles. He reached state singles semifinals in 2023. He won matches by 6-4, 7-5 and 6-2, 7-5. In 2024, as a senior, Gallian again qualified for state while second seed Julian Stolevski also qualified.

But NCHSAA rules do not let a player compete in both singles and doubles at state. The top Falcon doubles duo of Gallian and Stolevski competed not individually but in doubles on May 10 in Burlington. They did not place.

Gallian said that he improved his “strength and footwork” from the prior season. “Big serve and big forehand” are his main weapons, he said. Gallian has had Luke Manuel as his principal for six years — two at Hendersonville Middle, then the last four at West after Manuel switched to his alma mater.

Stolevski, a rising senior, was ninth best in singles in the state as a sophomore in 2023. The redhead credits “fitness, mental strength, and ability” for toughing out matches – especially on humid afternoons.

Gallian and Stolevski were dominant again this spring in doubles and individually. Gallian finished 12-2 in singles as the number one seed. Stolevski was 11-1 as the second seed. Foes usually scored two or fewer total games against him. McCrain, a junior, was 10-2 when playing as the third seed.

West’s other seeds were usually 2024 grads Rourke Sullivan, Ben Weaver, and Carson Hood with rising senior Spence Thorsland emerging in playoffs. Intra-team challenge matches determined seedings. Other Falcons were then-senior Trey Whitaker; juniors Seth Buttry, and Erwin Thomas; and sophomore Teague Atwell.

Taming the Tigers

The most dramatic team victory was a vengeful 5-4 conquest of Lake Norman Charter School on May 9. The Tigers won at West in round two of 2023. Gallian dropped his match. But Stolevski won 6-3, 6-1. McCrain won 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 1-0 (10-8) in the tiebreaker. Sullivan and Weaver lost.

Sixth-seeded Thorsland won a thriller 7-6 (7-2), 6-3. The teams tied 3-3 in singles.

The contest came down to the three doubles matches. Lake Norman won the top doubles match 8-4. But West’s second tandem of Sullivan-Thorsland won 8-4. Its third doubles team of McCrain-Weaver won 8-2. The Falcons prevailed.

Thor-like Thorsland

In the playoff win over North, Thorsland won 6-3, 6-3 as the sixth seed with Weaver gone. Thorsland said that he overcame “nerves” in the single-elimination team tournament. The 6-foot-3 Thorsland was a receiver and DB on the Falcon football team that set a school record for wins (13) and (three) playoff game victories, spurring West’s continued athletic all-around success.

In a battle of top seeds, Gallian beat NHHS’ tall Norwegian exchange student Herman Sagedahl 6-3, 6-1. Sagedahl said area schools’ top seeds are typically as talented as those he’s competed against in Europe.

Stolevski won his match 6-0, 6-3. McCrain won 6-3, 6-3. Sullivan won 3-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-8). Hood lost 6-2, 6-2 to sophomore Knight Izaiah Cerezo.

Blanking a Top Seed

The playoff opener was a claw-fest between two Falcon schools. Gallian shut out West Rowan’s top seed 6-0, 6-0. Stolevski (6-1, 6-1) and McCrain (6-2, 6-2) breezed to victory. Sullivan and sixth-seeded Hood each lost in tiebreakers. But Weaver won 6-4, 6-4.

West led 4-2 heading into doubles play. West swept doubles: Gallian-Stolevski (8-0), McCrain-Sullivan (8-6), and Weaver-Thorsland (8-5).

Thorsland was the sole Falcon to win in singles in the defeat at Hickory. He did so by 2-6, 6-3, 1-0.