Lineup stability fueling North success
No matter how much Pickerington High School North boys tennis coach Brian Hoff liked his lineup before the season, he had pencil and paper ready to devise potential shuffles.
"I'm a tinkerer, as they say," Hoff said. "I like to switch lineups around, looking for the best combinations and as of right now, I have one I really like so I'm going to stick with it. It might stay the same the rest of the year, it might not. Who knows?"
Entering the week, the Panthers had rolled out the same lineup for each of their eight matches. Led by sophomore Blaine Carr at first singles, North was 8-1 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division following a 5-0 win over St. Charles on April 29.
Following Carr are senior Ben Keen at second singles, sophomore Cameron Friedman at third singles, the first doubles team of sophomore Matt Barry and senior Patrick Yen and the second doubles team of freshman Avery Kreemer and junior Franco Platania.
Entering the week, Kreemer and Platania were 8-0. Carr, Friedman and Barry and Yen all were 7-1, with all but Carr taking losses in a 3-2 loss to Dublin Coffman on April 10. Carr's first loss came April 23 when he fell to Reynoldsburg's R.J. Raglin 5-7, 7-6, 6-4.
"We've done really well. We've only lost one match (before April 29) and it was probably a match we should have won," Yen said. "But other than that, we've taken care of business. We're doing everything we want to do."
Hoff said the consistency of his doubles teams is largely to thank for the lineup's stability.
"Our four (doubles) guys are really meshing well right now," he said. "Blaine plays with a lot of maturity. He's been playing well. Ben's playing well at second (singles). Cameron is stepping up at third. All three guys are playing really well right now.
"Against Coffman, some of our singles guys didn't close the deal and we learned a lot from that. They've been playing some really good tennis ever since."
The Panthers end every post-match talk with a "1-2-3-OCC" chant in an effort to maintain focus on winning their second consecutive league championship. North upended three-time defending champion Gahanna for the OCC-Ohio title last year.
North plays host to Gahanna on Thursday, May 2, then concludes its league schedule Tuesday, May 7, at Grove City. The league tournament is May 11 at Reynoldsburg.
The next step is an improved postseason performance. No Panthers advanced from a Division I sectional tournament at Reynoldsburg last year.
"(A league championship) is our focus, whether we are playing a league opponent or whatever," Yen said. "It doesn't matter. That's our goal every year."
Central coach hopes struggles are over
Last year, Central started 8-2 overall, only to lose eight of its last nine matches.
This year, the Tigers started 5-0 but lost three of their next four -- 5-0 defeats against Westerville South in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association tournament April 15, North on April 18 and Upper Arlington B on April 22.
Coach Kelli Rings hoped a 3-2 win over Grove City on April 23, which improved Central to 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio, signaled a turnaround ahead of the league tournament.
"I keep reiterating that it's not about wins and losses. It's about coming out and being ready, being prepared and putting up a fight," said Rings, whose team entered the week 8-3 overall. "They looked hungry earlier in the season. (Two weeks ago), we had a few flat matches and I didn't want it to carry over. Hopefully, we got some bugs out. I am seeing more drive and desire."
Rings said freshman Chase Pratt, who entered the week 8-3 at second and third singles, has been impressive, as has been sophomore Nick Vandervoort despite his 4-5 singles record before an April 30 league match at Newark.
Vandervoort won his first appearance of the season at first singles April 25, defeating Chillicothe's Noah Adams 6-2, 6-2.
"(Pratt) has grown by leaps and bounds as far as his ability and his demeanor on the court. He's only a freshman and doesn't act like a freshman," Rings said. "There's no one on this team working harder than Nick. He's out here early. He hits and wants to spend his off-time hitting. He'll call me to come hit with him. He'll call his teammates to come out and hit with him. He wants to put the time in, and I'm hoping he reaps the rewards, too."