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Tennis Teams Brought Home Ravenscroft’s First State Championships
By Thomas Brown ’21 and Julian Quao ’21 | Back to Table of Contents
Today, the Ravenscroft athletic program is a powerhouse, with 10 state championships in the last decade alone. So it may be surprising to learn that, in the early 1970s when the North Raleigh campus was new, the plan for athletics was to start small.
“[School leaders] wanted to start an athletic program, so we built one from scratch … and it turned out pretty well,” said Bill Holleman, who served as Ravenscroft’s director of health and physical education, soccer coach and, later, athletic director. “Hard work is what we built our program on, outworking everybody else we played against.”
An important part of the strategy, he added, was a focus on teams that did not require a lot of players to be successful. That strategy led to the Ravens winning their first state championships in tennis, with the boys team bringing home the trophy in 1974 and 1975 and the girls team matching those titles in 1975 and 1976.
With AD Bill Wilkerson at the helm, Ravenscroft student-athletes strove to make their mark as a new school. Tennis players had to mature quickly in their game, as they were playing against seasoned seniors from other independent and public schools.
“If you want to be the best you have to play the best,” Holleman noted. “Eventually there was a leveling out, and it came pretty quickly.”
It helped that the tennis teams, originally based at nearby North Ridge Country Club, attracted considerable talent, including Alex (“Andy”) Andrews ’77, Ava Watkins ’76, and Katharine Hogan Kane ’78. As experienced players, they anchored the teams that brought home those first state championships.
“I’d been a state champion [on the junior tennis circuit] since I was 12, so I was used to winning,” Watkins remembered. Kane, who grew up in a tennis-playing family and was also highly successful in tournament play outside of school, said she “had butterflies before every match. But when I started warming up, they disappeared.”
Andrews, who transferred after his freshman year to attend Woodberry Forest, would go on to success on the professional circuit. Winning a state championship at Ravenscroft, he said, “was pretty awesome.” He recalled that the 1974 championship match was played the same day as the school’s new tennis courts were dedicated in honor of his grandfather, John Hawkins Andrews. “It was a day to remember,” he said.
Before the end of the decade, Kane and her teammates would win a third championship, in 1978 (with the boys’ team adding another trophy in 1981), and two more Ravenscroft sports — boys soccer and football — would win state titles. It was in those early, ambitious victories that the school’s proud athletic history got its start.
Bill Holleman is a legend in the North Carolina sports community. He attended Campbell University, where he is now in their Hall of Fame. After a short stint at Sanderson High School, he joined the Ravenscroft community as a teacher, coach and athletic director. In his 10 years coaching soccer at Ravenscroft, his win-loss-tie record was 224-37-13, and his teams were North Carolina Independent Schools state champions in 1977 and 1978.
Holleman continued his record of success as coach and AD at the Lovett School in Atlanta. He also served as venue director for many world-class soccer events, including the Detroit World Cup in 1994 and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. He is currently retired after 40 years as a teacher, coach and school administrator and lives outside Charlotte in Lake Wylie, South Carolina.
He is credited, with three other local soccer pioneers, as co-founder of the Raleigh Soccer League and CASL. He is a member of the North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame.
Alex (“Andy”) Andrews ’77 attended Ravenscroft from sixth through ninth grade. A tennis player since he was 9 years old, in his freshman year Andrews became the youngest player to win the North Carolina High School State Championship in singles, leading the team to Ravenscroft’s first state championship in 1974. His strategy to win was to get the ball in the corner or to make opponents miss.
Andrews was named All-American at NC State in both singles and doubles, winning five ACC Individual Titles (two singles, three doubles) and leading the Wolfpack to two ACC Team Titles between 1977 and 1981. As a professional player, he won three doubles titles and the finals of the 1982 Australian Open and the semi-finals of the 1983 U.S. Open with partner John Sadri. He was inducted into the North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003 and honored by NC State in 2004 with the naming of their new indoor courts in his honor.
He is the chairman and CEO of Dominion Realty Partners.
Even before Ava Watkins ’76 joined the girls tennis team at Ravenscroft, she was touring the country, competing in tennis matches and winning state championships in multiple age divisions. Playing for Ravenscroft made her part of something special. “It was a great team of girls, and we had a great time,” she remembered.
Watkins added that “sports can change your life,” noting that as an adult she used the game to advance her professional life. “Back in the 1980s lots of male athletes got hired on Wall Street. I had to find a way to show how competitive a woman could be,” she said. She did just that when she had a chance to play — and beat — two Heisman trophy winners, OJ Simpson and Marcus Allen, in doubles with her then-boyfriend.
Watkins is the founder of the Alternative Asset Group and serves as a managing director at Quoin Investment Banking. She is also active in animal rescue, including serving as the New York coordinator for USA Dogs Bless You Rescue.
The oldest of five children in a tennis-playing family, Katharine Hogan Kane ’78 anchored Ravenscroft’s 1975, 1976 and 1978 state-championship teams in addition to winning many tournaments on the junior and adult tennis circuit.
After high school, Kane played at The University of South Florida, where the team was ranked 10th in the country. She transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill and, in 1981, the team won the ACC Championship and was ranked 11th in the country. In her senior year she was team captain and won the 1982 ACC Doubles Championship. She was inducted into the Ravenscroft Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
Kane noted how much tennis has changed over the years, both in the physical and mental demands on players. She said today’s players are typically more powerful, but many miss out on the social experiences she enjoyed at Ravenscroft because of their demanding travel schedules. Today, she manages her family’s business, Hogan Outdoor Inc.
About the authors
Thomas Brown ’21 was a junior enrolled in Tomeiko Carter’s Digital Media class when he and classmate Julian Quao ’21, both in their first year at Ravenscroft, worked on this story. Ravenscroft athletics are a passion. “I play football and basketball and run track, and I received Honorable Mention All-State honors for football. I’m looking to major in Media Communications at whatever college I attend,” he said.
Julian Quao ’21 was excited to get involved in his first year at Ravenscroft. “I am a student in Digital Media. I am also a two-sport athlete. I am on the football team and the varsity track team. Although my transition into Ravenscroft was not the smoothest, there’s no school I would rather be attending. Ravenscroft has allowed me to develop skills I never thought I would achieve and provides the learning environment that pushes me to succeed,” he said.
OTHER STATE TITLES FROM OUR FIRST DECADE
Along with the back-to-back championships for both boys and girls tennis, Ravenscroft athletics added to their successes in the ’70s with four more state titles: boys soccer in 1977 and 1978 and football in 1978 and 1979. With 16 Ravenscroft Sport Hall of Famers between them, the boys soccer and football teams of the 1970s helped paved the way for athletic dominance in the 1980s — starting with the 1979-80 boys basketball team — in which the Ravens brought in a whopping 16 state championships.
Read the complete list of state championships here.
1977 Boys Soccer
The back-to-back state championships that the Ravens boys soccer team acquired began with the 1977 team. Coached by Bill Holleman, these athletes overcame what the 1978 Corvus referred to as “several disheartening setbacks” to take the crown. Led by many seniors, the team only lost once the whole year, showing how dominant they were in the fast-growing sport.
1978 Boys Soccer
Their second championship came the following year. Though the team had lost 10 seniors and heavily relied on young talent, they — like the early tennis teams — overcame their youth and matured quickly. The program would take three more titles in the 1980s.
In 1978, the football team finally got its time to shine as it captured a state title. Dean Shavlik ’80, who was named the team’s MVP and first-team All-State honors during this season, said at the time, “I feel like being state champions has finally made people recognize what a good football team we really have.”
Like both tennis teams and the boys soccer team, the football team also won a second consecutive title. They went undefeated in 1979, boasting a 10-0 record. Shavlik and Billy Simpson ’80 shared MVP honors, and Shavlik became the first player from a non-public school to receive All-Metro honors.
… and 1979-80 Boys Basketball
Bridging the two decades was the boys basketball team from the 1979-80 season, who won the state title under the legendary leadership of longtime Ravenscroft coach Jimmy Cox, who posted this photo in a Facebook shout-out to his athletes in honor of the 40th anniversary of their big win. “Time flies,” he added.