The New Albany High School boys tennis team hopes a strong finish to this season has the Eagles in prime position to do even more in 2015.
Five Eagles advanced to the Division I state tournament, the most in program history, and while New Albany graduates four players, only two of them were in the top seven. Stephen Miller, a University of Toledo signee, advanced to state in singles and Durga Samanthula contributed in both singles and doubles as New Albany finished 13-2 overall and 7-0 in the OCC-Capital Division.
Also not to be forgotten for next year, according to coach Marc Thomas, is that the Eagles will have actual home matches.
Construction at the high school forced New Albany to go on the road for the entire season. Most designated home matches took place at Gahanna.
"Being on the road all year could have worn a lot of teams out, but it was another thing we got to battle against and overcome," Thomas said. "This season was a turning point for us as a program. Moving forward, we'll have Alex (Kobelt), C.J. (Cash), Nick (Blair) and Graeme (Green) back next year. We lose Stephen, but these guys are great leaders. They'll fill the voids. They're our future. I am excited about that."
Cash and Kobelt, both juniors, placed third in doubles in the state tournament that concluded May 31 at Ohio State. They won their first two matches, lost to eventual state champions Mustafa Ahmad and Nakul Narendran of Cincinnati Sycamore 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-2) in a semifinal and bounced back to beat Mason's Nadim Boulos and Sean Reid 6-3, 6-0 in the third-place match.
Miller went 1-1 in singles. Blair, a junior, and Green, a freshman, were 0-1 in doubles.
Thomas played as many as 13 players on varsity at various times throughout the season, calling up some players who usually got time on junior varsity. Miller returned from a shoulder injury late in the season, joining a singles lineup that usually included Cash, Green and Kobelt.
Others who played varsity included junior Ben Teich and sophomores Noah Fox, Harrison Lippy and Bhargava Samanthula.
"I played No. 1 singles most of the year, so I am sure Alex and I will be dueling to play that position next year," Cash said. "But most of our entire team is back. We're very deep."
New Albany cruised through league play, winning all but one match by 5-0 scores to finish ahead of Worthington Kilbourne (6-1), Olentangy (5-2), Olentangy Orange (4-3), Delaware (3-4), Big Walnut (2-5), Mount Vernon (1-6) and Franklin Heights (0-7). The Eagles' only league win that wasn't a sweep was 4-1 at Mount Vernon on April 24.
Cash and Kobelt won the doubles title in the UA sectional tournament that concluded May 20. Miller was second in singles and Blair and Green were fourth in doubles as the top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to district. Durga Samanthula was 2-1 in doubles, falling a win short of qualifying for district, and Fox was 1-1 in singles.
Cash and Kobelt were second in doubles in the district tournament that concluded May 24 at Hilliard Davidson. Miller was second in singles, and Blair and Green placed third in doubles as the top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to state.
New Albany's only losses this season were to Toledo St. John's, 4-1 on April 12, and Upper Arlington, 3-0 in an Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district final May 27. UA sent six players and St. John's four to the individual state tournament, and UA finished as state runner-up in the OTCA tournament.
The Golden Bears' Chuck Shewalter defeated Miller in the sectional and district singles finals, and UA's Eric Hunter and Jack Zelezny beat Cash and Kobelt in the district doubles final a week after Cash and Kobelt won the same matchup in the sectional final.
"We have a lot of motivation for next year," Cash said. "I'm sure no one wants to lose to UA again."