Wagner helps Emory win title
A four-time Division II state qualifier in singles, Ian Wagner had a successful high school tennis career.
The 2011 Wellington School graduate and Upper Arlington resident placed fourth at state as a freshman, third as a sophomore and second as a senior and was a state quarterfinalist as a junior.
Yet, Wagner didn't draw a lot of attention from college coaches.
"He was like a three-star player, a good player but not a blue chipper," Emory University men's tennis coach John Browning said.
When Wagner first visited Atlanta-based Emory, Browning couldn't watch him play because of NCAA rules, so he asked his top singles player, Dillon Pottish, to assess Wagner's game.
Pottish, the 2011 Division III national runner-up and 2012 national champion, gave Wagner a good review.
"Dillon uses compliments very sparingly and he said, 'There's no doubt this kid can play,'" Browning said. "I knew I wanted him on my team after that."
That decision helped Emory win the Division III national championship this spring.
Wagner won the decisive court in the Eagles' 5-4 win over Williams College in a national semifinal May 22 at Cary, N.C. The next day, Emory defeated Kenyon College 5-3 in the final to finish 25-0 and capture its third national title in Browning's 13-year tenure.
As a freshman, Wagner went 24-4 in singles, including a 12-2 record at third singles, and was 20-5 at second doubles with Elliot Kahler.
"The entire season we really believed in ourselves," Wagner said. "As well as we had done throughout the season, I think we would've all felt disappointed with anything less than a national championship."
Browning saw a lot of improvement in Wagner's game as the season progressed.
"During the course of the spring, you saw his game grow from point A to point Z in a matter of months," Browning said. "He had some ups and downs, but if you look at his record in singles and doubles, it's incredibly impressive."
Emory was led this spring by two seniors in Pottish and Chris Goodwin, who played second singles.
Pottish defeated California Lutheran's Nick Ballou 6-2, 1-6, 6-2 to win the national singles title May 26. In 2011, he lost to Goodwin 6-2, 7-6 in the national final.
The Eagles also got key contributions from their freshman class, including Wagner.
Against Williams College, Emory held a 4-2 lead and needed to win only one of its final three singles matches to win the overall match. However, Pottish cramped up and had to retire from his match at first singles and freshman Eric Halpern lost 6-3, 0-6, 7-5 at fifth singles, tying the match at 4.
That meant Emory's bid to reach the national final came down to Wagner, who rallied to defeat Matt Micheli 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, 7-5 at third singles.
"Ian was struggling and then, all of a sudden, he took his game to the next level," Browning said. "Once he has his teeth into someone, he doesn't let go."
At the time, Wagner didn't realize the outcome of his match would determine which team would move on the national final.
"That was probably a good thing. I would've gotten a little more nervous," Wagner said. "When I finished the match, I thought we still had a match or two to go. I didn't find out until afterward that I was the last person playing.
"It feels good to win a national title. So many people could go through their entire career and not win one. This year was our year to win."