Heading into 2020 there was no doubt of Carson Eberly’s place on a short list of the best all-time Fountain Central tennis players.
But what did hang in the balance was the everlasting legacy he and his five senior teammates would leave behind.
It all came to a head on Oct. 3 when a struggling Eberly and the Mustangs had one more hurdle in the surging Covington Trojans to try and claim a fourth-straight IHSAA Sectional title.
High school tennis is scored for team purposes as which school can win at least three out of the five matches. Nobody needed to tell Eberly that his No. 1 singles match against Covington’s Calvin Springer was important, but few thought the senior had a win over Springer in him.
Except for himself.
“The night before the sectional final the only thing going through my head was that I was going to beat Calvin,” Eberly said. “I had to have this mindset because if I came out there and played ‘not to lose’ like the coaches said, then I would’ve lost. I had to go out there and play to win. Mentally I just told myself that I wasn’t going to accept losing a third time to him.”
Eberly avenged two regular season losses to Springer with a 7-5, 7-5 straight set win — giving Fountain Central a 3-2 win over Covington in the sectional final.
The Mustang senior is the 2020 Boys Tennis Player of the Year for a second-straight season.
This fall was Eberly’s third season as Fountain Central’s No. 1 player, which has included a variety of successes, including key wins over Springer in 2019 both in the Wabash River Conference final and sectional championship. 2020 had proved to be different though, Springer’s improvement paid off with wins over Eberly in the Bi-County tournament and the WRC final. Those losses proved to be costly for Eberly, also dropping matches to Parke Heritage’s Evan James and Dylan Lemon of West Vigo.
“My struggles at the end of the season were just simply me beating myself,” he said. “The coaches and I talked after multiple matches about just playing to not lose instead of going out there and playing to win. After the conference championship I knew they were right and I had to change something or my tennis season would’ve ended early.”
Fountain Central coach Chris Webb has been around tennis in west central Indiana for over 20 years, and he knows as well as anyone that once a player overtakes an opponent, it’s hard for the other to regain control of the rivalry.
“I knew he could (win), but the way that Calvin had looked against Carson, I kind of got the feeling that it didn’t matter,” Webb said. “In fact and I think coach Kight (David) would be okay with me saying this. The two of us agreed even the year prior that if Calvin ever beat Carson head-to-head, we didn’t think Calvin would ever lose to him again.”
Eberly had no problem in proving his coaches and everyone else wrong.
“I am competitive in everything I do, I hate losing in everything,” he said. “I think it helps because sometimes I just want it more than the opponent and that could be the difference between a win and a loss one night.”
His competitive nature has helped set him apart from other athletes while at Fountain Central on the tennis court, hardwood, and the basebal diamond. And it’s exactly what made the difference when the stakes were the highest this fall.
“I think for him he just has an ability to rise to the occasion in the big moments,” Webb said. “There are some players who fear the big moments, and he doesn’t. He’s a strong competitor, and he’s going to fight until the end. He just possesses that ability that great athletes do and that’s the ability to put forth their best and go after shots when others might be a little more tentative.”
Eberly later defeated Southmont’s Adam Cox 6-3, 6-4 for a second time on the season to help the Mustangs advance to the regional final against Terre Huate South. His career eventually came to an end with a 6-0, 6-0 loss to the Braves’ Canaan Sellers, who advanced all the way to the state quarterfinals.
Eberly and many of his senior teammates Jacob and Sawyer Keeling, Cody Linville, Brent Myers, and CJ Yager first picked up a tennis racket when they were in fifth-grade, now years later they are leaving the Fountain Central tennis program in a better place — both on and off the court.
“I hope I made a lasting impact on the program not only for my tennis skills but also just how I carry myself and how I treat others,” Eberly said. “Coach Webb and Coach Kight are always trying to form us into the best individuals we can be outside of tennis and I hope that’s where I leave my biggest impact on the program.”
Eberly’s success stretches far and wide in the Fountain Central community. The senior was recently named the Western Indiana Community Foundation 2021 Lilly Endowment Community Scholar winner for Fountain County. On the basketball court he is one of the stars for the Mustangs. When he walks down the halls, everyone knows his name.
But on the tennis court?
That’s where Eberly never failed to shine his brightest.
“We have always defined the Most Valuable Player as the player that our team would have the hardest time doing without,” Webb said. “Over the last four years, Carson has helped redefine MVP for us. In our four sectional championship matches, Carson went 4-0 without dropping a set. In three of the four years, he defeated an opponent he had lost to earlier in the year. In all four matches, he improved his last result against his opponent. Carson had the ability to bring his best tennis in the most crucial moments — that is what an MVP is able to do.”