Fifth-year Hilliard Davidson High School boys tennis coach Shawn Walton hopes his returnees learned from 2010 graduates Trent Searfoss and Ben McClarren, who qualified for the Division I state tournament in doubles last season.

Fifth-year Hilliard Davidson High School boys tennis coach Shawn Walton hopes his returnees learned from 2010 graduates Trent Searfoss and Ben McClarren, who qualified for the Division I state tournament in doubles last season.

Searfoss and McClarren lost to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit's Garrett Cona and Matt Spittler 6-2, 6-2 in the first round at state.

"I'd like to think the returnees learned what it takes to get to that level," said Walton, whose team opens Thursday, March 31, with an OCC-Central Division match against visiting Westland. "To get to the state tournament, you have to be really good, and once you get there, every match is going to be tough.

"I told (the returnees) at the end of last year, the ball lies in their court. They've been there and watched it. We're seeing a different level of practice and work ethic this season."

Davidson finished 6-11 overall last year and placed fifth in the OCC-Central with a 3-4 record and 40 points, behind Upper Arlington (7-0, 73), Dublin Coffman (6-1, 58), Thomas Worthington (5-2, 56) and Worthington Kilbourne (4-3, 46) and ahead of Hilliard Darby (2-5, 37), Westland (1-6, 15) and Central Crossing (0-7, 8).

Seniors Kevin Blackstone, junior Spencer Walter and sophomore Joe Justus are expected to play singles. Seniors Zack Page and Greg Tiffan comprise one doubles team and junior Pat Holland and sophomore Michael Porter make up the other.

At the league meet last season, Walter placed sixth at third singles, Blackstone and Page finished seventh at first doubles and Tiffan and Holland placed fourth at second doubles.

"The OCC is going to be tough as always," Walton said. "The key for us is going to be minimizing unforced errors and staying consistent. We can't afford to hand away points. If we make silly errors and give away points, we're not going to be competitive."

Darby graduate Ryan Pelfrey achieved a milestone for the program last year when he became the Panthers' first district qualifier.

"It was not only an accomplishment for Ryan, but the whole team was proud for him," said eighth-year coach Scott Nickel, whose team opened March 30 against Jonathan Alder. "It gave everyone the belief that if they work hard, they can get there as well. It gave us a little momentum for this season."

Darby finished 4-8 overall and placed sixth (2-5, 37) in the OCC-Central behind champion UA (7-0, 73).

The Panthers lost five players from a year ago to graduation and do not have any seniors this year.

Sophomore Kyle Chilcote played second singles last year and is the frontrunner to replace Pelfrey at first singles. Juniors Andy Kim and Jason Pelfrey - Ryan's younger brother - and freshman Christopher Martin also are vying for playing time at singles.

"That depth is a positive situation for us," Nickel said. "They're competing with each other and making each other better."

Juniors Talha Saif and Nathan Tan, sophomores Sirhasha Ponna and Zack St. John and freshmen Siddartha Revur and Soundak Roy are competing for playing time at doubles.

"The single most important thing for us will be for us to get better every single time we step out on the court," Nickel said. "We're so young and in such a competitive division of the OCC. We know we have our work cut out for us."

Bradley is looking to improve on its inaugural season, in which it finished 2-15 overall and went 2-5 (17) in the OCC-Capital to place fifth, behind New Albany (77), Big Walnut (46), Olentangy Orange (38) and Delaware (35), and ahead of Watkins Memorial (12) and Franklin Heights (1).

Bradley picked up its league wins against Franklin Heights (5-0) and Watkins Memorial (4-1).

"We're a lot more focused this year," said second-year coach Ben Lilly, whose team opens Thursday, March 31, with a league match at New Albany. "They let me know what they needed to improve on (at the end of last season) and really pushed themselves to get better."

Junior Daniel Smith returns to first singles and seniors Tyler Speakman and Andy Van are competing for second singles.

Senior Troy Fleischman and sophomore Chris Bowman, a newcomer to the team, are playing first doubles and senior Krishna Patel and sophomore William Kolenky will play second doubles. Junior Kevin Girardi has a knee injury and is not expected to play this season.

"Last year seeing kids like New Albany's John Hendrix and Riyad Bennoui (who placed second in doubles at the Division I state tournament) was quite an eye opener for our kids," Lilly said. "The shots we could make once in 100 times were the ones they could do consistently.

"The key this year will be our serving. If we get our serves in solidly, we'll be able to improve on last year."