CARY — Middle Creek’s Nick Stachowiak welcomed the arrival of a new boys tennis season eager to defend his 4A state title and lift the Mustangs into contention for the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference title.
But his sophomore season is over before it began with a back injury.
Stachowiak learned Friday from his doctor following an MRI exam that he has suffered two broken vertebrae. He is sidelined for three months and the state tournament is in early May. Stachowiak wears a brace that allows him to attend school as well as Wednesday’s match, but otherwise he’s physically limited to his rehab therapy.
“I was shocked I broke two bones in my back,” Stachowiak said. “I felt a sharp pain when I was playing a (non-high school) practice match about a month ago. I actually finished the match, but later I couldn’t move. I couldn’t put on my socks.”
Stachowiak rested for two weeks and soon felt better. He didn’t play in Middle Creek’s two non-conference matches last week, but he expected to return to face conference foe Green Hope. That was before the MRI results were known.
“Nick and I talked every day, and we never thought he’d be out for the year,” Middle Creek coach Rhonda Blanchard said. “We thought maybe it was a pulled muscle. We thought we’d be competitive with Green Hope, but without Nick at No. 1 we had to move all the players up the lineup. I equate losing Nick to the Seattle Seahawks losing Russell Wilson.”
Green Hope, the defending conference champion, won 9-0.
Green Hope coach Kevin Taylor and his players arrived at Middle Creek unaware of Stachowiak’s condition. Taylor, like other Triangle boys high school tennis fans, was eager to learn how his new No. 1 player, freshman Ben Wayand, would fare against Stachowiak. Both players are among the top-ranked juniors in the state and know each other as workout partners.
“I hate to see any player hurt,” Taylor said. “The tennis fan in me wanted to see how Ben and Nick played. I wanted to see the doubles match, too. Nick and Justin Panepinto are a good doubles team and I wanted to see them against our guys, Ben and Luis Rico.”
Wayand and Rico won their doubles match against Panepinto and Edward McRowan, 8-1. Rico, a junior, won his No. 2 singles match 6-0, 6-2.
“It’s disappointing to hear about his injury, especially because Nick is such a great kid,” Rico said. “I’ve played with Nick and he’s always been a very fair competitor.”
Many elite tennis players don’t play high school tennis, but Stachowiak enjoys the team aspect. He plans to support the team in a coaching role and maybe learn something from the new vantage point watching and instructing.
“Most high school kids wouldn’t be out here right now, but that’s not Nick,” Blanchard said. “As I’ve told Nick, he’s not only done so much for our tennis program but for our entire athletic department. He’s a true ambassador for Middle Creek High School.”