Flahive, Topinka leading Patriots
The Olentangy Liberty High School boys tennis team features only two returning letterwinners in seniors Kyle Flahive and Andrew Topinka and doesn't have any returning district qualifiers.
But seventh-year coach Steve Sisko believes the Patriots' versatility will help make up for what they lack in experience.
Liberty, which finished 9-7 overall last season, opened April 3 with a 5-0 loss to Dublin Scioto and lost to Columbus Academy 5-0 on April 4 before beating Hilliard Bradley 5-0 in its Division I Ohio Tennis Coaches Association tournament opener April 5.
"This is the least-experienced team I've had in terms of returning varsity players, but we have a lot of high-performing academic kids who can play multiple positions well," Sisko said. "Most of our kids are pretty interchangeable, so we'll be able to move players back and forth from the singles and doubles courts if we need to. That way, if we have someone missing out of our lineup for a match, our whole team shouldn't be greatly weakened."
The Patriots' lineup typically will have Flahive at first singles, Topinka at second singles, sophomore Sayantan Basu at third singles, senior Alex Heydorn and junior Hemanth Koralla at first doubles and senior E.J. Sidhu and freshman Mohit Daga at second doubles.
Junior Shravon Patel also is expected to get playing time.
"With so many new faces on the team, our main goals are to compete in every match and continue to get better," Sisko said.
Last season, Liberty went 4-3 in OCC-Cardinal Division duals and finished the league tournament with 49 points to place fourth, behind Dublin Jerome (86, 7-0), Dublin Scioto (56, 6-1) and Westerville Central (51, 5-2) and ahead of Westerville South (36, 3-4), Westerville North (22, 2-5), Olentangy (14, 1-6) and Marysville (9, 0-7).
As part of OCC realignment, the Patriots have moved to the OCC-Central along with Central Crossing, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Davidson, Marysville, Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington and Westland.
"Upper Arlington and Dublin Coffman are two of the best teams in the state, so if we can finish second or third in the OCC-Central, that will be good considering the tough road blocks we have ahead of us," Sisko said.
In the Division I sectional tournament last year at Upper Arlington, the doubles team of Vick Chhabria and Kevin Pang went 2-2 and secured the fourth and final district-qualifying berth. The 2012 graduates lost their opening match at district at Davidson.
Pioneers return three starters
Orange returns three starters from last season in seniors Tim Hawk and Ryan Jay and sophomore Kaleb Kok.
Hawk is playing first singles this spring after going 13-9 at second singles a year ago, when the Pioneers finished 9-7 overall. Jay is playing second singles after teaming with 2012 graduate Joseph Lee to go 13-6 at first doubles last season, and Kok is playing first doubles with junior Ramandeep Vilkhu after going 9-7 at third singles last year.
Sophomore Stephen Spezzano is playing third singles and junior Christopher Ricci and sophomore Jason Huang are playing second doubles.
Also on the team are juniors David Huang and Michael Kunchal.
"We don't have any superstars, but that's a good thing because we have a balanced team," said first-year coach Matt Rutherford, who coached DeSales the past seven seasons. "Our guys are good students who work hard and don't complain. They are very coachable, so their learning curve is very steep."
Last season, Orange placed second (45, 5-2) in the OCC-Capital, behind New Albany (77, 7-0) and ahead of Big Walnut (44, 6-1), Delaware (38, 4-2), Hilliard Bradley (25, 2-5), Watkins Memorial (23, 3-4), Mount Vernon (14, 1-6) and Franklin Heights (0, 0-7).
Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Olentangy.
Orange, which opened with a 5-0 loss to Worthington Kilbourne on April 4, had only one Division I district qualifier last season in 2012 graduate Doug Ganim, who went 4-1 and placed fourth in the UA sectional but was not able to compete at district because of illness.
Ganim primarily played first doubles last year.
"We are relatively rebuilding because we lost six guys to graduation," Rutherford said. "But our goal is to finish in the top two of the OCC, along with New Albany who is the favorite to win it. We also want to qualify two or three guys to district."
Karbler returns to lead Braves
Olentangy returns seven players from a year ago in senior Logan Smith, juniors Huzaifa Doctor, Austin Karbler and Zoheb Memon and sophomores Arun Esakkirajmohan, Kevin Miller and Madhay Shah.
Karbler is back at first singles after appearing in just four matches last spring before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury. The lineup also includes Miller at second singles, Esakkirajmohan at third singles, Smith and Memon at first doubles and seniors Ryan Kelly and Miles Merten at second doubles.
Rounding out the roster is senior Carlos Cuellar.
Olentangy opened the season under second-year coach Jeff Luxenburger with a 5-0 win over Delaware in an OCC-Capital match April 2. It then beat Marion Harding 5-0 on April 4 and defeated Big Walnut 3-2 in a league match April 5.
Last season, Olentangy finished 3-12 overall and placed seventh in the OCC-Cardinal (14, 1-6). The Braves competed in the Division I sectional at UA but did not have any district qualifiers.