A lack of depth hampered the Olentangy Orange High School boys tennis team during its first three seasons, as the Pioneers struggled to win close matches at third singles and second doubles.
With five starters back in the lineup backed up by an influx of talented new players, fourth-year coach Mark Latham said depth no longer is a concern.
The Pioneers, who finished 8-7 overall in dual matches last season, opened March 27 with a 4-1 win over Pickerington Central before beating Mount Vernon 4-1 on March 29 in their OCC-Capital Division opener.
“In the past, if we were missing one guy in our lineup, we were in trouble,” Latham said. “Third singles was my worst court for years and sometimes we wondered if our second doubles team was going to show up.
“Now, we have nine guys who can win at third singles and three of them could win most of their matches at second singles. It’s good to have that kind of depth. I just wish we could get our junior varsity players in more matches because they’re good enough to compete in varsity matches.”
Returning to play first singles for a fourth season is senior Doug Ganim, who went 14-9 last year.
Junior Tim Hawk is playing second singles after going 11-7 at first and second doubles a year ago.
Playing first doubles are junior Ryan Jay and senior Joseph Lee. Last year, Jay went 3-1 at second and third singles and 12-6 at first doubles. Lee didn’t play last season after going 5-13 at first and second doubles as a sophomore.
Seniors Jonathan Ricci and Jon Peddicord are playing second doubles. Ricci went 3-7 at second and third singles and 5-3 at second doubles last season. Peddicord is playing high school tennis for the first time after playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments the past several years.
Sophomore P.J. Dahn, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, won his first two matches at third singles this season.
Others who might play varsity matches are seniors Garrett Cross, Goutham Mukkapati and Adi Patel, sophomore Raman Vilkhu and freshmen Kaleb Kok and Stephen Spezzano.
“We have a lot of good singles players and adding P.J. and Jon to our team made us that much stronger,” Latham said. “We’re just trying to find the right combinations to give us our strongest doubles teams.”
After competing in the OCC-Capital tournament last year, the Pioneers finished second (6-1, 52 points) in the league behind New Albany (7-0, 76) and ahead of Big Walnut (5-2, 39), Delaware (3-3, 31), Hilliard Bradley (3-3, 19), Watkins Memorial (2-5, 18), Franklin Heights (1-6, 7) and Mount Vernon (0-7, 6).
Reaching the Division I district tournament were Ganim, who went 0-1 in singles, and 2011 graduate Tanner Greene and Jay, who went 0-1 in doubles.
“This might be the best team we’ve ever had, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to beat New Albany to win the OCC because they keep adding incredible players every year,” Latham said. “We’ll see what we can do against New Albany, but I’m hoping we’ll at least hold on to our No. 2 spot in the OCC and improve on last year’s record because our guys are working hard and they deserve to win.”
Braves looking for improvement
Olentangy opened March 27 with a 5-0 loss to Reynoldsburg before beating Marysville 4-1 in its OCC-Cardinal opener March 28 and losing to Dublin Scioto 5-0 in a league match March 29.
The Braves went 0-11 overall and 0-7 in the OCC-Cardinal last season.
After competing in the league tournament, Olentangy finished last (0-7, 12) behind Dublin Jerome (7-0, 77), Olentangy Liberty (6-1, 51), Dublin Scioto (5-2, 38), Westerville Central (4-3, 37), Westerville South (2-5, 19), Westerville North (3-4, 16) and Marysville (1-6, 16).
None of the Braves placed in the top four in a Division I sectional to advance to district.
“We’ve already reached our first goal of winning at least one match to break our infamous streak after going winless last year,” first-year coach Jeff Luxenburger said. “Our other goal is to see improvement across the board from all of our players.”
Playing first singles is sophomore Austin Karbler, while sophomore Boheb Memon is playing second singles and senior Najeeb Memon is at third singles.
Sophomore Huzaisah Doctor and freshman Madhab Shah are playing first doubles and sophomore Matt Dean and freshman Kevin Miller are at second doubles.
“Our seniors are stepping up and being leaders and our young guys are listening to our older guys and doing well,” Luxenburger said.
Patriots expecting to be ‘competitive’
Liberty, which finished 9-5 overall last year, opened its season with a 5-0 win over Marysville in a league match March 29.
Playing first singles is senior Vick Chhabria, while junior Kyle Flahive is playing second singles and junior Andrew Topinka is playing third singles.
Seniors Manu Matsa and Shashank Sirivolu are playing first doubles and sophomores Alex Hernandez and Nick Kouskouris are playing second doubles.
Senior Kevin Pang rounds out the lineup.
“They’re all similar in talent and interchangeable at their positions, which gives us the flexibility to move our guys around,” fourth-year coach Steve Sisko said.
Last year, 2011 graduates Alexander Hathaway and Mitch Lothes were the only Patriots players to reach the Division I district tournament, where they went 1-1.
“We can’t replace the two experienced players we lost, but we still should be competitive,” Sisko said. “The OCC is probably going to come down to Westerville Central and Dublin Jerome as the favorites, but I think we can compete with every team in our league and our goal is to try to win it.”