MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Ethan Porterfield has become part of the solution.
Now a junior, when Porterfield got to the Arts & Sciences boys' tennis program, it had been fading since the retirement of coaching legend Jerry Pate after the 2012 season. Other schools in the Chattanooga area had passed the Patriots up, and there was a tradition there established by Pate — who died in April — that had slipped.
But in came head coach Ben Schulz and a group of players led by Porterfield, and slowly that tradition is coming back.
For the second straight season, Porterfield will play for a Class A singles state title at the TSSAA Spring Fling, two days after the Patriots played for a team championship. That match ended in defeat at the hands of Merrol Hyde, 4-1, and for Porterfield to bring the program its first state title, he'll have to defeat Tobias Mandeville in a rematch of last year's singles final, where the score was 6-2, 6-3. More recently, Mandeville defeated Porterfield 6-3, 6-1 in Wednesday's team final.
"We had three seniors this year that really, really stepped up," Porterfield said of Anay Patel, Wilder Prophaster and Nikhil Singh. "We were undefeated in the postseason up until the finals, so all of our guys stepped up. They put in a lot of work in the offseason."
That's something Porterfield did as well, changing up his diet — "Asparagus was killing me," he said — and working on his conditioning, a process that started not long after his sophomore campaign ended. He saw the results, but so did the boys' program with its first-ever team state final.
Spring Fling state tennis on May 25, 2023
The journey to Friday's singles final wasn't an easy one for Porterfield.
He found himself getting pushed in his quarterfinal against Cannon County's Bode Davenport, who took three games off him in the second set, and in his semifinal against Gatlinburg-Pittman's Skyler Floodquist, who was down just 5-4 in the first set before falling 6-2 in the second.
"Getting through these first few matches this year was kind of in my head a little bit, because I thought this was going to be an easy trip (to the final) again, but I really had to fight," he said.
"Losing in Wednesday's championship match wasn't a good feeling. I've used that as motivation, especially after getting second (in singles) last year, too. So my mentality this year was: 'Why don't I go home and try to place first this year?'"
Beyond his physical improvement, Schulz noted Porterfield "got better with a little bit more strategy in his game. He likes to play on the front foot, he likes to play aggressive, and this year we had to rein him in a little bit and get him to play with more patience, play with some strategy, and then let's see how far that takes us."
It has taken him as far as becoming the third Patriot to play for a singles state title, but he is looking to become the second winner: Jackson Lenoir was a two-time runner-up in singles in 2011-12, while Stan Goss was a runner-up in 2002 before winning it all the following year.
"This week has been great for us because we're a small school, but we're a big community," Schulz said. "We have a lot of supporters and we have supportive parents and a supportive community overall, and it feels really good to represent them."
The only other singles finalist from the Chattanooga area is on the girls' side, where Walker Valley's Ensley Collins will play for the Class AA title Friday at the Adams Tennis Complex. Two Chattanooga doubles squads will play for DII-AA titles: Boys' team state champion McCallie will be represented by Gabe Getz and Henry Imorde, while girls' team runner-up Baylor will be represented by Gabby Czarnecki and Sloane Proffitt.
There were a number of semifinalists from the area: Arts & Sciences' Emma Schnitzer in Class A girls' singles, McMinn County's Tucker Monroe in Class AA boys' singles, Silverdale Baptist Academy's Kai Lam in DII-A boys' singles, Baylor's Helen Guerry in DII-AA girls' singles and McCallie's Jouzas Cioladis and Andreas Sillaste (singles) and Sean Clark and Wolf Sholberg (doubles).
Contact Gene Henley at [email protected].
An earlier version of this story reported that Ethan Porterfield was seeking to become the first player in Arts & Sciences boys' tennis history to win a state title. Stan Goss became the program's first state champ when he won the TSSAA Class A/AA singles title in 2003.