For the third consecutive season, a group of area high school tennis players has returned home with the Ohio Valley Cup championship.
Team Columbus went 3-0 in the five-team tournament held June 15 and 16 at Erickson All-Sports Facility in Parkersburg, W.Va. Also competing in the event were teams from Cincinnati, Dayton and Charleston, W.Va., and the Mid-Ohio Valley Tennis Association, which was comprised of players from a total of 12 counties in southeastern Ohio and northern West Virginia.
Team Columbus beat Dayton 8-2 in the first round and MOVTA 10-0 in the second round before defeating Cincinnati 7-3 in the final.
The event uses a 10-match format, with two singles matches for both boys and girls, two doubles matches for both boys and girls and two mixed-doubles matches. Teams were permitted to have 10 players on their rosters, but Team Columbus had four boys and four girls.
"It was a lot of fun," said 2013 Upper Arlington graduate Nate Wallace, who was the only player on Team Columbus to compete in the event each of the last three years. "There was a lot of good tennis played and we were able to extend our streak to three years. We didn't play our best tennis as a team until the championship and still won. I think everyone stepped it up against Cincinnati."
The other boys on Team Columbus were UA senior Jeffrey Melvin, UA sophomore Eric Hunter and 2013 Watterson graduate Ryan Bibo. The four girls on the team were 2013 Hartley graduate Rachael Morales, 2013 Hilliard Bradley graduate Ashley Thai, UA junior Audrey Berger and UA sophomore Olivia Kompa.
Team Columbus was coached by Tyler Stephen, who coaches the boys and girls teams at Dublin Jerome, and Steve Metzmaier, who coaches the boys team at Worthington Kilbourne.
"We had a talented roster and the kids relished the opportunity to represent their cities and central Ohio," Stephen said. "They liked the co-ed format and we had an interesting mix of ages on our roster."
Wallace, who will continue his playing career at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and Melvin won the Division I state doubles title this spring, defeating Cincinnati Sycamore's Dylan Stern and Deepak Indrakanti 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the final.
"We had three guys from UA, but all eight people on the roster were familiar with one another through our clubs and (United States Tennis Association) competition," Wallace said. "For me, it was great having (Melvin and Hunter) on the team because we had a great season at UA and they deserved to be on this team."
Bibo, who will be playing at Denison University, lost in the first round of the Division II state tournament in singles.
"Bibo had a great career at Watterson but may have been a little underrated," Stephen said. "He played great in doubles with Eric against Cincinnati. Eric was one of the strongest freshmen in Ohio this season."
Morales won the Division II state title in singles last fall and will be playing for Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.
"(The Ohio Valley Cup) was really fun," she said. "The USTA events are mostly individual events, but competing for a team and representing your school and your district in a team event is special. I wish there were more tournaments like this.
"The competition was better than regular-season high school matches and it was a team format. I wish it had lasted more than two days. We got to stay overnight and we all knew each other because several of us train together. It was exciting."
Thai, who will be playing for Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., was a three-time state qualifier. She and her cousin, 2013 graduate Lauren Thai, won the Division II state doubles title in 2010 and lost in a Division I state quarterfinal in doubles in 2011. Last fall, Ashley lost in a Division I state quarterfinal in singles.
Berger and 2013 graduate Elaine Cloern placed third in the Division I state tournament in doubles in 2011.