The Upper Arlington High School boys tennis team is seeking its 31st consecutive league championship and third Ohio Tennis Coaches Association tournament title in four years this spring.
The Golden Bears also hope to have at least one state qualifier for the 55th consecutive year, and eighth-year coach Amos Allison sees no reason why his team can't achieve those goals given that his roster from a year ago remains intact.
UA opens Tuesday, April 9, with an OCC-Central Division match at home against Thomas Worthington.
"Not only did we not lose anybody, but there's so much improvement from the underclassmen. They've closed the gap on some of the older guys," Allison said. "We have a lot of numbers, too -- 34 in the program (11 on varsity A, 11 on varsity B and 12 on junior varsity). They're a hard-working group. I think they can accomplish a lot."
Senior and two-time doubles state champion Stu Little leads the list of returnees. Also back are seniors Brandon Griffin, Ben Minton, Peter Pema and Nate Wallace, junior Jeff Melvin and sophomores Brian Lee, Tyler Holsopple and Aaron Yang.
"We don't have to spend time just getting to know each other. That's already done. We can concentrate on tennis," said Little, who recently accepted an offer to be a preferred walk-on next year at the University of Pennsylvania. "We're already comfortable with each other, and we have a couple freshman (Eric Hunter and Jackson McNair) looking very good. People will hear about them."
Little, who won Division I doubles state titles in 2010 and 2011 with 2011 graduate Billy Weldon, helped the Bears defeat Springboro 3-0 in the OTCA final last year, two days after he and the doubles team of Griffin and Melvin lost in quarterfinals of the state tournament at Ohio State.
Against Springboro, Griffin won 6-2, 6-0 at second singles, Yang won 6-0, 6-0 at third singles and Little clinched the Bears' 16th OTCA championship with a 7-6, 6-0 win at first singles.
UA defeated Copley 3-0 in an OTCA semifinal.
Allison headed off any possible complacency with the entire roster back by giving each of his players detailed lists of what he wanted them to work on during the offseason.
"I hit 100 volleys every day and 100 overhands every time I stepped on the court. It felt like 100, anyway," Griffin said. "You start to see results once you start improving in something that maybe isn't your favorite thing to do. It just carries over to everything else."
At state at last year, Little defeated Mason's Alexander Lebedev 6-4, 6-4 in the first round before losing to eventual third-place finisher Aaron Sandberg of Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit 6-2, 6-3.
Melvin and Wallace beat North Canton Hoover's Tim Bruin and Tyler Sarver 6-2, 6-0 in the first round before losing to Bellbrook's Jackson Heinz and Wyatt Heinz 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
That came on the heels of dominant league, sectional and district tournament performances. UA was 20-1 overall in the regular season and went 7-0 in the OCC-Central, finishing the league tournament with 77 points, well ahead of runner-up Dublin Coffman (54, 6-1) as well as Hilliard Davidson (44, 5-2), Worthington Kilbourne (34, 4-3), Thomas Worthington (27, 3-4), Hilliard Darby (20, 2-5), Westland (9, 1-6) and Central Crossing (4, 0-7).
Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal as part of OCC realignment last summer and were replaced by Marysville and Olentangy Liberty.
Little went 5-0 at sectional on his home court as all seven Bears advanced to district. The doubles team of Wallace and Melvin also won a sectional title, going 4-0. Placing second were Griffin (4-1) in singles and the doubles team of Pema and Minton (3-1). Yang went 3-2 and placed fourth in singles.
At district, Wallace and Melvin went 4-0 to win the doubles title and Little went 4-0 to win the singles title. Minton and Pema went 1-1, Griffin went 1-1 and Yang went 0-1, as the top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to state.
But right now, the Bears aren't reflecting on any of those achievements.
"This team has impressed me," Allison said.
"You hear about rankings and tournament results, but normally that doesn't mean much in high school. We have guys ready to compete with these juniors and seniors and try to take a spot from them."