Veteran Wildcats showing early promise
Coach Rob Hays has to be impressed with the Newark High School boys tennis team's fast start.
Sandwiched around a 4-1 setback in last Tuesday's OCC-Ohio Division opener at Reynoldsburg, the Wildcats posted a pair of 5-0 victories. They beat Canal Winchester last Monday and visiting Watkins Memorial last Wednesday as senior Alex Brest set the tone in that all-Licking County matchup with a 6-1, 6-2 win at first singles over Stephen Heiliger.
"We're definitely encouraged," said Hays, whose team defeated Zanesville 5-0 last Thursday and played Big Walnut last Friday. "I'm really not surprised, though. This is the most experienced team I've had."
The Wildcats, who finished 7-6 overall a year ago as champion Gahanna (63 points) dominated in the OCC-Ohio Division, return two other veterans to play singles in seniors Brad Becktell on the second court and Corey Nabors on the third. Both are fourth-year varsity contributors.
In doubles, senior Alex Vanatta and junior Andy Lovrak are playing on the first court with senior Joe Colby and sophomore Geoff Rank team on the second court. Hays said he does not expect to play a lineup any deeper than his top seven.
"We don't need any injuries," said Hays, whose team finished 10-8 overall in 2008. "If we stay healthy, I don't see why we couldn't get back to double-digit wins and maybe get some kids to (the Division I) district (tournament).
The Wildcats, who haven't been represented at the district meet since Geoff Becktell and Kyle Barnaba qualified in doubles in 2006, face another full slate this week. They'll play host to Groveport on Monday, Mount Vernon on Tuesday and Gahanna on Wednesday before competing in the eight-team Bob Raica Tournament Saturday at Westerville South.
• Watkins Memorial dropped to 1-2 overall with last Wednesday's loss, which included a 4-1 victory in the opener last Monday at Teays Valley. The Warriors also fell 5-0 in the OCC-Capital opener last Tuesday at three-time defending-champion New Albany, which totaled 71 points to win last year's title but graduated Ohio State-recruit Peter Kobelt, who won the Division I state singles title.
"We're still playing a bunch of young kids," coach Shawn Walter said. "We should be a little deeper, though. We've got 25 out and that's about 11 more than I've ever had here, but 12 of them are freshmen and 10 are sophomores. The kids are competitive in practice and that should make getting better a little easier."
The Warriors, who finished 5-9 overall a year ago, return junior Halle Cheplowitz at second singles and classmate Andrew Stocker at third singles. Cheplowitz is permitted to play boys tennis because she plays volleyball in the fall. Junior Josh Crumbliss and sophomore Justin Thomas are back to play first doubles, and playing second doubles last week were senior Isaac Smith and sophomore Reid Wolfe.
Others to look for include sophomore John Barnett, and Walter might have a hard time keeping freshman Austin Williams out of the lineup.
The Warriors have home OCC-Capital matches Monday against Big Walnut and Tuesday against Delaware. They also play visiting Bloom-Carroll Wednesday and Thursday at Hartley.
•Mike O'Callaghan, who led Gahanna to its first league title since 1981, is the new coach at Granville after Keith Mullins stepped down following his fourth season.
As manager of the Division II district tournament, however, O'Callaghan isn't happy about the fact that central Ohio will advance only two singles players and two doubles teams to the state tournament instead of four. The combined East and Southeast district picked up additional state-berths even though DeSales and Watterson both dropped down from Division I this spring.
"The bottom line is the district is way harder. It's been stacked, anyway, and now it's even more so," he said. "I'm not looking at it as a defeatist or anything; I'm just a realist."
One of the players most affected might be sophomore Daniel Gardner, who advanced to a state-qualifying match in singles a year ago and returns to play on the first court. Senior Eric Hall, who advanced to a state-qualifying match in doubles and was named ThisWeek's Player of the Year after posting a 27-7 combined record in singles and doubles, also returns. He teamed with senior Dan Miller for a victory at first doubles last Wednesday as the Blue Aces defeated Bloom-Carroll 5-0 in the opener.
"Dan looks real good, but we'll know more after playing DeSales (Monday)," said O'Callaghan, whose team also plays Tuesday at Grandview, Wellington at home Wednesday and Friday at Coshocton. "I'm still getting a read on the boys, but I know after Dan it's not a clear-cut. It gets blurry after that and we're working to get the right doubles combinations."
Senior Will Trautman and sophomore Greg Kerr opened at second and third singles, respectively. Junior Adam Seeds paired with sophomore Ryan Rosinski at second doubles. Senior Ollie Male, who played with Hall in last year's postseason as Columbus Academy won the combined MSL-Ohio-Cardinal title (50 points) and also a second Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team championship, opted not to return.
"I'm not as familiar with some of the Division II schools, either, so I'm working my way through that," said O'Callaghan, who will be assisted by Chris Lucas-Miller and Torey Dougan, both of whom are Granville graduates. "When I first started teaching (in the early 1970s) I was here for a couple of years and coached girls tennis. It's nice to be back, but so much has changed."