Deerfield senior Pete Langstaff, left, and sophomore Will Calhoun were smiling a lot during the 2013 tennis season — a 21-0 record, a region and state title will do that, of course. But the moment they’ll remember most this season came when they avenged their region title loss from a year ago against their teammates, Reid Wright and Robert Newsome, who were Deerfield’s No. 1 doubles team — on paper, anyway. A few weeks later, they upped the ante and beat Wright and Newsome again, this time for the state title. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Tyson)
ALBANY --- How is it possible to top an undefeated, 21-0 season, a region title and a state championship?
With The Herald’s Player of the Year honor, of course.
And don’t worry, Deerfield’s dynamic doubles duo of Pete Langstaff and Will Calhoun don’t mind sharing it.
“It’s great,” Calhoun, a sophomore, said when learning of the honor with teammate Langstaff, a senior. “I wish Pete was coming back next year so we could try to do it all again, but the run we went on together is something I don’t think either us will forget.”
Neither will their coach.
Meredith Gruhl, who has been coaching tennis at Deerfield since the late 1980s, said it was hard to remember a tandem quite like Langstaff and Calhoun — two young men so driven, so focused and so hungry to prove they were No. 1.
It wasn’t easy. After all, they spent most of the season at No. 2 — and in the shadow of the Knights’ No. 1 double teams of Reid Wright and Robert Newsome.
“That was one of their goals coming into the season: beat Reid and Robert and be our No. 1 team,” Gruhl said. “And they did.”
But most importantly of all, they did it when it counted most.
“They would come up to me all year and ask me if they could play No. 1 over Reid and Robert, saying they thought they were the better team,” Gruhl recalled. “But Reid and Robert were the defending state doubles champion, and I told them if they wanted to be No. 1, they had to beat them in region, then state.”
Soon after the gauntlet was thrown down, Langstaff and Calhoun ran right over it, beating their teammates in region and claiming the title that eluded them one season earlier when Newsome and Wright spanked them soundly, 6-2, 7-5, in the 3-AAA finals. But little did Gruhl or anyone else know, that was far from Calhoun and Langstaff’s only goal.
“Winning state was our goal from the beginning of the year,” Langstaff, who was vacationing with his family overseas when he received the news via e-mail that he and Calhoun were named the POYs, wrote to The Herald this week. “Playing against Robert and Reid always made us better, so to beat them was nice — but not as sweet as winning state.”
Langstaff and Calhoun also know an argument could be made they they’re undefeated record was inflated because they played No. 2 doubles and weren’t having to face competition as tough as Newsome’s and Wright’s.
Both scoff at that and feel that they were only No. 2 on paper.
“Obviously, the number one seed is going to play better competition, but in our case the number 1 and 2 doubles teams were pretty even,” Langstaff wrote. “I feel confident that me and Will — (had we played No. 2 all season) — could have done it and (still finished unbeaten and won state).”
As a team, they balanced one another. They were each others’ ying and yang.
“They really complemented each other well,” Gruhl said. “Pete had this big serve, big personality and always played with a lot of emotion, while Will would sometimes try to slow the pace during the big points, keep Pete calm and settle the team. And when they did that, they’d always seem to come out and take care of business.”
Langstaff said he couldn’t imagine playing with anyone else.
“I think me and Will made such a good team because we picked each other up when we were struggling and did not let each other get frustrated during a match,” he wrote. “Will has a really strong net game and is more steady, making fewer mistakes, while I hit the ball harder but miss more. Our games complement each other.”
The rivalry between Langstaff/Calhoun and Wright/Newsome stayed on the court — “We were all friends off of it, but it was intense when we were on it,” Calhoun said — and it was expected to reach its pinnacle when the two teams advanced to meet in the state title match.
It never did.
Langstaff and Calhoun smoked Newsome and Wright, 6-2, 6-4, to officially end the debate about who was the best doubles team at Deerfield in 2013.
The deciding match, however, didn’t lack intensity.
“There was one point where Reid hit the ball so hard, it busted and just died when it hit on Pete and Will’s side. That just gives you an idea of how hard they were going at the each — one of them hit a ball and broke it. I’d never seen that before,” Gruhl said with a laugh. “It was a double-edged sword seeing them playing each other for state. You’re happy on the one hand because you know one of your teams is going to be happy and win state, but it’s hard knowing one of them also has to lose.
“Either way, it’s not a bad problem to have. Just a little tough when they’re both your teams. I’m proud of all of them.”
All in all, the competition between the boys was beneficial for the team, Gruhl said.
“It was Pete and Will’s goal to beat Robert and Reid, right? Well, once Robert and Reid knew that Will and Pete had gotten a lot better and had beaten them in a practice match once or twice, the goals switched: Robert and Reid had a goal of getting back on top,” Gruhl said. “Everyone (on the team) fed off the rivalry, and it made everyone better.”
Interestingly enough, those one-time rivals may soon become battery mates next fall.
Langstaff and Newsome have both graduated, leaving Wright and Calhoun to return next year without their doubles partners, meaning ...
“I can already see me and Reid playing together next year,” Calhoun said. “I want to win it again, and I know he wants to, too. You might just see us playing together next season.”
Player of the Year Runner-up
Joel Landis, Sr., Americus-Sumter
Why he’s here: Landis, The Herald’s two-time reigning Player of the Year heading into this season, had another great season for the Panthers, going 18-2 with an unbeaten Region 1-AAAA record. He captained the boys team to yet another state tournament run that ended in the Sweet 16.
Nasser Risvi, Sr., Deerfield
Why he’s here: Played No. 1 singles for the region champion Knights and was the GISA Region 3-AAA singles champ, finishing 16-5 overall.
Reid Wright (Jr.) and Robert Newsome (Sr.), Deerfield
Why They're here: Were 29-2 as a doubles team and their only losses came to their teammates — Will Calhoun and Pete Langstaff, The Herald’s Players of the Year. They won the state title in 2011 and were runners-up this year after falling to Langstaff/Calhoun in the finals.
Lane Hatcher, So., Westover
Why he’s here: Led the team to its first region title in years with his 13-3 record and was had the lone win against West Laurens in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAA state playoffs.
Nathan Bell (So.) and Mark Peterson, Westover
Why They're here: Westover’s No. 1 doubles team that finished 13-2 overall and were unbeaten in region, helping lead the Patriots to the second round of the state playoffs.
Edwin Bell (Sr.) and Chirag Mendpara (Jr.), Westover
Why they're here: Westover’s No. 2 doubles team that carried a perfect record all year before losing they’re only match in three sets in the second round of state.
Hema Hasona, So., Bainbridge
Why he’s here: Bainbridge’s No. 1 singles player who finished undefeated in region and 14-4 overall. Hason, who is ranked in the Top 40 in boys 16-and-under singles in Georgia, led the Bearcats to the region title and state playoffs.
Cody Carden, Sr., Baconton
Why he’s here: Baconton’s No. 1 singles star went unbeaten in region and helped lead the Blazers’ tennis program to a tie for the deepest run in state in school history (the Final Four). Finished 13-3 overall and was 2-0 in state matches before being team was knocked out.
Samuel Cornwell, So., Baconton
Why he’s here: Baconton’s No. 2 singles player who finished 13-3, unbeaten in region and led the team to a region title and the Final Four in state.
Sanjay Patel, Sr., Baconton
Why he’s here: Baconton’s No. 3 singles player who finished 13-3, unbeaten in region and led the team to a region title and the Final Four in state.
Jackson Bankston (Sr.) and Brock Pinson (Sr.), Baconton
Why They're here: Baconton’s No. 1 doubles team that finished 13-3, unbeaten in region and led the team to a region title and the Final Four in state.
Will High (Fr.), Brock Allen (8th-grade), Westwood
Why They're here: The Wildcats’ top doubles team who won region led them to the Elite 8 of the state tournament.