One of the reasons seniors Jacob and Jared Stephenson of the Grove City High School boys tennis team love playing together as a doubles team is a freedom no one else might afford the twins.
"I can actually tell him if he's doing bad, and being my brother, I know he's not going to take it wrong, whereas if it was someone else, you can't just say, 'Hey, you're doing bad,' " Jared said. "We goof around a lot when we're playing. One of us will tell the other guy they're doing bad, even after a pretty good shot. I can tell when he's getting angry and when to leave him alone. We both know, from brotherly experience, when to get our act together."
That hasn't been a problem this spring for the Stephensons, who played doubles together only once last year but became a full-time pairing before the start of this season. Despite not having played tennis before last season, they entered the week with an 8-0 record.
Last year, Jacob teamed with seniors Taisto Laine and Bryton Wise in doubles before sustaining a season-ending back injury while jumping on a trampoline, and Jared was the junior varsity's top singles player. Those factors left little doubt in coach Ron Smith's mind that the brothers could be partners this season.
"Jared was the next to get into the varsity lineup (last year) and Jacob was just a little bit better," Smith said. "They're both playing at equal abilities right now and it's matching up perfectly."
Even so, neither Smith nor the Stephensons had any idea how the pairing would go, but expectations were raised after a 7-6, 7-6 win over Reynoldsburg's Bryn Bell and Raymond Truong in an OCC-Ohio Division match April 9.
"That was pretty much the telltale (sign) that they could be a special team," Smith said. "They're both just playing really well. They complement each other well. They're having a great season."
The Stephensons grew up with Grove City spirit, as their father, Chuck, played basketball for the Greyhounds and their mother, Shelley, was a cheerleader.
The brothers also agree on their strengths. Jacob prefers to play closer to the net and Jared is better at lobbing.
"I'm good at being aware of where I'm supposed to go and whether I should let my partner get the ball or if I should hit it," Jacob said.
"Jacob's really good at being close up at the net," Jared said. "I'm usually way back hitting it back and forth, and he's more of a go-getter. He's always wanting to swing at (the ball) when it's really close."
The doubles pairing was split twice in the Greyhounds' first 10 matches. Jacob missed a 5-0 win over Hartley on April 19 because of another extracurricular commitment and Jared teamed with freshman Killian Hartman to defeat Stu Burkett and Tyler Shaffer 6-0, 6-1 at first doubles. In a 5-0 win over Grandview on April 26, Jacob and sophomore Garrett Wise defeated Joe Huggins and Nick Eaton 6-2, 6-0 at first doubles and Jared and freshman Killian Hartman beat Austin Lewis and Jon Sterneker 6-1, 6-0 at second doubles.
The Stephensons plan to attend Columbus State Community College, but after this season, tennis likely will be played simply for fun.
"It's just more fun playing with my brother than with another teammate," Jacob said. "We know each other well, and we encourage each other."
Comets overcoming injuries, youth
A shoulder injury to junior and projected first singles player Stephen Taylor forced Central Crossing coach Dusty Rhodes to shuffle his lineup.
Even though the Comets entered the week with only two wins in 11 matches, Rhodes has seen progress.
"I think we're playing better than our scores (indicate)," Rhodes said. "We are progressing. We're not quite where we need to be, obviously, but I hope to see more throughout the next couple weeks."
The Comets' lineup has had few variations. For the most part, junior Mikhail Yakhnitskiy has played first singles, with sophomore Kyle Deep and junior Aaron Hill playing second and third singles, respectively. In doubles, the primary pairings have been juniors Mikey Massey and Dennis Meleshchuk on the first court and sophomore Dennis Bell and senior Javin Neff on the second court.
Central Crossing defeated Franklin Heights 3-2 on April 10 and Newark 3-2 on April 22.
"Like everybody else, it was a tough spring as far as practices were concerned," Rhodes said. "We're doing a lot of learning during matches. They're learning more about having a good presence on the court and getting into the flow of the (match) quicker."