Having lost five players to graduation, the Upper Arlington High School boys tennis team must rely on several underclassmen in order to continue its tradition of winning an OCC title and advancing to the Division I OTCA state team tournament.

Having lost five players to graduation, the Upper Arlington High School boys tennis team must rely on several underclassmen in order to continue its tradition of winning an OCC title and advancing to the Division I OTCA state team tournament.

"It reminds me a lot of my first year," fifth-year coach Amos Allison said. "Last year, I didn't have to look after the older players as much. Now it's, 'Did you remember to bring your water bottle and your uniform?' It's a different mindset."

Seniors Benny Benalcazar and Andrew Giljahn and juniors Eric Vannatta, Bryan Wang and Billy Weldon return from last year's team that finished 15-3 overall.

The Golden Bears will be counting heavily on freshmen Brandon Griffin, Stu Little, Peter Pema and Nate Wallace. Little (first singles), Wallace (second singles) and Pema (first doubles) were undefeated playing for Jones Middle School last year.

UA finished fourth in the OTCA state tournament after losing to Shaker Heights 3-2 in a semifinal and Toledo St. John's 3-2 in the third-place match. The Bears went 7-0 with 73 points to win the OCC-Central Division -- their 27th consecutive OCC title -- and advanced five players to district.

Thanks to Weldon and 2009 graduate James Melvin, the Bears continued a string of 51 consecutive years with a state qualifier. Weldon and Melvin placed fourth at state in doubles, losing to Watterson's Chris Diaz and Philip Diaz 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 in a semifinal and losing to St. John's Jacob Kuhn and Josef Pontasch 6-3, 6-4 in the consolation final. UA hadn't had a player reach a state semifinal since Andy Fischer and Tommy Hurst took third in 2000.

Weldon, a two-time state qualifier, is recovering from shoulder surgery last August but should be back at full strength by the middle of the season.

"We're really a young team," Weldon said. "We can't replace the seniors we lost, but I think we have some solid players who are going to fill in the holes in the team.

"We're not an overpowering team, but we're deep. It's not going to be a one-person team. We need everyone to contribute."

UA will have to rely on its depth to continue its monopoly of the OCC-Central title. Last season, Worthington Kilbourne (6-1, 68) placed second in the league, followed by Dublin Coffman (5-2, 54), Thomas Worthington (4-3, 44), Hilliard Davidson (3-4, 43), Hilliard Darby (2-5, 18), Westland (0-7, 11) and Central Crossing (1-6, 7).

The Bears swept the doubles courts in the league tournament. Weldon and Vannatta, who defeated Coffman's Pranav Magal and Daiki Kumasegawa 6-3, 6-2 in the first doubles final, are the team's only returning league champions.

Aside from Weldon, Kilbourne junior Kevin Metka, who won the state doubles championship a year ago with graduate Jonny Price, and Coffman sophomore Hiromi Nakayama, who lost in the first round of state singles, are the league's only other returning state qualifiers.

"The OCC's pretty wide open," Allison said. "There are a lot of pretty strong teams out there and a lot of deep rosters. That just means we're going to have to stay sharp at every position. We have to do the little things to be successful.

"The key is going to be preparation and execution. If we come in as prepared as we have been, I think we'll be all right. If we overlook someone and don't do our homework on a team, it's not going to lead to success."

At a glance

•Coach: Amos Allison, fifth season

•Next match: April 10 at Hunting Valley University School with Shaker Heights

•Key returnees: Benny Benalcazar, Andrew Giljahn, Eric Vannatta, Bryan Wang and Billy Weldon

SCHEDULE

*March 31 at Thomas Worthington

April 10 at Hunting Valley University School with Shaker Heights

April 12 at Hilliard Bradley

*April 13 vs. Hilliard Darby

April 15 at St. Charles

April 19 vs. Olentangy Liberty

*April 20 at Central Crossing

April 21 at New Albany

*April 22 vs. Westland

April 24 at Worthington Cup (Thomas Worthington)

*April 27 at Hilliard Davidson

April 28 at Dublin Jerome

*April 29 vs. Worthington Kilbourne

April 30 vs. Cincinnati Sycamore

May 3 vs. DeSales

*May 4 vs. Dublin Coffman

May 5 vs. Columbus Academy

*May 8 at OCC-Central tournament

May 10 vs. Watterson

*OCC-Central match