The spotlight finally is on Casey Cempre of the Thomas Worthington High School boys tennis team.

The spotlight finally is on Casey Cempre of the Thomas Worthington High School boys tennis team.

Last season as a junior, Cempre reached the Division I state tournament, where he lost to Lodi Cloverleaf's Ethan Dunbar 6-1, 6-3 in a quarterfinal. However, Cempre's achievement was overshadowed by Worthington Kilbourne graduate Kevin Metka, who won the state title in singles a year ago, and Olentangy Liberty graduate Arren Carter, a four-year state qualifier.

"Last year, Casey didn't have the limelight. He was always the other player from Worthington who made it to the state tournament," said third-year coach Tyler Stephen, whose team opened March 29 against Pickerington Central. "I told him, 'Kevin and Arren are gone this year. This year, you are the guy. Everyone has your name circled on their calendar.' It's going to be tough ... but now it's our time."

Cempre, who was the OCC-Central Division runner-up to Metka at first singles and placed third in the district tournament after losing to Carter last season, is one of five returning seniors. The others are Harrison Chang, David Edison, Mark Evans and Joey Wortman.

Also on the team are senior Matt Sisco, junior Carlos Waibl and sophomore Paul Bohorquez.

Stephen is hoping the experience of the returnees will help the Cardinals improve on last season, when they finished 12-5 overall and 5-2 (56 points) in the OCC-Central Division to place third, behind Upper Arlington (7-0, 73) and Dublin Coffman (6-1, 58), and ahead of Kilbourne (4-3, 46), Hilliard Davidson (3-4, 40), Hilliard Darby (2-5, 37), Westland (1-6, 15) and Central Crossing (0-7, 8).

Thomas opens league play Thursday, March 31, at Upper Arlington, which also won the OTCA Division I team championship last year. The Golden Bears return senior Billy Weldon and sophomore Stu Little, who teamed to win the state doubles title last season.

Edison won the third-singles title in the league tournament last year, with Chang, (second singles), Evans and Wortman (first doubles), and graduates Chris Shumaker and Karthik Hari (second doubles) all placing third.

"If there's ever been a year for us to make some noise, it's this year," Stephen said. "Most of (the players) have put in the time in the offseason.

"I've told the seniors to enjoy every moment because it comes and goes quicker than you would think. Now is the time to put up or shut up."

Kilbourne lost Metka to graduation, but the Ohio State freshman still casts a shadow over the program.

"I bring him up a lot," said 12th-year coach Steve Metzmaier, whose team opened March 29 against Olentangy. "I've told some of the freshmen if they work hard enough and put in the effort, they can do what Kevin did. He was not much better than they are when he was a freshman, but he dedicated himself to the game."

Metzmaier, whose team finished 5-10 overall last year and placed fourth in the OCC-Central at 4-3 (46) behind champion UA (7-0, 73), is counting on senior Brian Aguirre to replace Metka at first singles. Metka won the state title in doubles in 2009 with graduate Jonny Price and the singles title last year with a 7-6 (11-9), 6-3 victory over Liberty Township Lakota East's Zack Mueck.

Senior Sam Lazaroff and sophomore Jack Klein will play in the other singles spots.

Seniors Roger Juang and Andrew Zuk will play first doubles, while competing to play on the second doubles team are seniors Jon Wilkinson and Cort Wilson, junior Adith Balaji and freshman Justin Stone.

"Brian certainly separated himself from the rest of the pack," Metzmaier said. "But who we play where is going to depend on who we're playing. We want to put ourselves in the best position to win three courts.

"It's going to be a different kind of year. We don't have that superstar, but we have eight or nine kids who are pretty even."