What a difference one healthy player can make.
The Olentangy High School boys tennis team won two of its first four matches last season before its top player, Austin Karbler, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. The Braves lost 10 of their last 11 matches to finish 3-12 overall.
Olentangy won its first 11 matches this season, including a 3-0 start in the OCC-Capital Division, in large part because of the return of Karbler. The junior won 10 of his first 11 matches at first singles.
"In tennis, having a strong No. 1 singles player is huge," coach Jeff Luxenburger said. "When Austin was hurt last year, everyone had to slide up a position and we struggled. With Austin healthy, not only are we winning a lot more often at No. 1 singles, but everyone has moved down a spot and we're winning more at every position."
Arun Esakkirajmohan won his first 11 matches at third singles, Matt Dean and Madhay Shah won seven of their first nine matches at second doubles and Logan Smith and Zoheb Memon won seven of their first 11 matches at first doubles.
Kevin Miller has been playing second singles.
"All of our guys have improved and a lot of younger guys like Arun are stepping up and winning matches," Luxenburger said. "We're focusing on playing more aggressively at doubles than we have in the past, and our guys are working hard on volleying."
The Braves won five of their first 11 matches by a 3-2 score. Those wins came against Big Walnut in an OCC-Capital match April 5, Liberty on April 10, Village Academy on April 11, Worthington Christian on April 15 and Orange in a league match April 20.
"We've won a lot of close matches and beating Liberty was huge for us because we haven't beaten them in many years, if ever," Luxenburger said. "I knew we were going to be a lot better than we were last year and I expected us to have a winning record, but winning our first nine matches is a surprise. We're having a phenomenal season."
The Braves play Thursday, April 25, at Hilliard Davidson before playing host to Watkins Memorial in a league match Tuesday, April 30.
"We've still got a lot of tough matches left, so we need to keep improving," Luxenburger said. "We need to keep playing really steadily at singles while our doubles teams continue to learn and execute our new strategy."
Patriots struggle with key players missing
Missing two key players from its lineup, Liberty went 0-3 last week.
The Patriots lost to Watterson 4-1 on April 15, Dublin Jerome 4-1 on April 17 and Marysville 3-2 in an OCC-Central match April 18 and lost six of their first eight matches. Missing from the lineup last week because of illness were Kyle Flahive at first singles and Mohit Daga at second doubles.
Liberty also was losing on all five courts against Upper Arlington on April 16 in a league match that was suspended because of rain. The match will be completed May 11 at UA before the start of the OCC-Central tournament later that day.
"We're just trying to improve and compete in each match while our kids get more varsity experience," coach Steve Sisko said. "Our season has been all right, but I'm disappointed that we lost to Olentangy and Marysville because we were expecting to win those matches. It didn't help that we were missing two varsity players last week."
The Patriots beat Hilliard Bradley 5-0 on April 4 and Central Crossing 5-0 in a league match April 9 before losing their next four matches.
Liberty will play Friday, April 25, at Orange. The Patriots defeated the Pioneers 4-1 last year.
"One of our goals is to beat the other schools in our (school) district," Sisko said. "We didn't beat Olentangy, so we're really hoping we can win this match. We're hoping we will have both Kyle and Mohit back playing again by the time we play Orange."
Pioneers earn first victory of season
Orange beat Mount Vernon 5-0 in an OCC-Capital match April 18 for its first win of the season, breaking a five-match losing streak.
The Pioneers lost to Olentangy two days later. Winning matches against the Braves were Ryan Jay at second singles and Stephen Spezzano and Kaleb Kok at first doubles.