Upper Arlington High School boys tennis coach Amos Allison admitted before the Golden Bears' opener April 8 at Thomas Worthington that he did not have "that great an idea" how his lineup will look early in the season.
But Allison isn't worried. Despite losing five seniors who led UA to Division I Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team championships the past two years and undefeated OCC-Central Division titles each of the past four seasons, Allison thinks his roster has the potential to have another banner year.
"Doubles is up in the air right now, but we have strong players across the board," said Allison, who is entering his ninth season. "Our program, as a whole, is in a good place, and I think boys tennis in Upper Arlington is as strong as it's ever been. Our 'B' team even has some guys who might see time on varsity. We lost five outstanding seniors last year, and the younger guys knew they had to work that much harder to get their shot."
Senior Jeffrey Melvin, a Boston College signee, returns after teaming with 2013 graduate Nate Wallace to win the program's state-record 17th state doubles championship. Melvin is the team's only senior. Others who saw varsity time last year include juniors Brian Lee and Tyler Holsopple, and sophomores Eric Hunter and Jackson McNair.
The graduation of Stu Little leaves a void at first singles that Allison expects will be filled either by Melvin or junior Chuck Shewalter. Little finished third in singles last year in the state tournament after winning doubles titles as a freshman and sophomore.
"Jeffrey has such a big serve," Allison said. "Sometimes he hits harder than necessary, but he finds his spots and usually uses his power well. He knows when to tone it down, and that he doesn't need to hit a winner on every shot."
Shewalter, who has committed to Ohio State, transferred from Boston College High School where he helped his team to the Division I state team title last season. His father is an Upper Arlington graduate.
"He's good but nowhere as good as he wants to be," Allison said. "He and Jeffrey have been going back and forth for those top two singles spots. (Shewalter's) forehand is unorthodox, but it's effective. Chuck wants to make an impact right away."
The rest of the roster consists of juniors Shuo Liu and Anthony Yang, and freshmen Jack Hughes and Jack Zelezny.
"We usually have at least one freshman come up and make it," Allison said. "Last year, it was Eric Hunter. A couple years ago, it was Jeffrey. Tennis is so big in this area that younger players are getting better all the time. It never surprises me to see a freshman challenge the older guys."
UA's first three matches are within the OCC-Central. After playing Thomas, the Golden Bears had their home opener April 9 against Marysville, and they visit Westland on Thursday, April 10.
UA, which was 17-2 overall and 7-0 in the OCC-Central last year -- earning 81 of a possible 82 points in league play -- is seeking its 32nd consecutive league championship as well as its third OTCA state title in four years. The Bears also have qualified at least one player to state each of the past 55 years.
New boys volleyball coach has young team
First-year boys volleyball coach Lauren Litts liked the early returns from her underclassman-dominated team.
UA was 4-0 before its OCC-Ohio opener April 8 against Dublin Coffman -- which also was the team's first home match. Three of the Bears' wins came in the season-opening Tiger Kickoff Classic on March 22 at Pickerington Central, including an 18-25, 25-11, 25-13 win over Licking Heights in the championship match.
"We've dealt with a lot of issues early, including some concussions and one player with a broken arm (senior right-side hitter Joe Bevan)," said Litts, whose team has three seniors and eight juniors. "We pretty much have the whole team together otherwise right now, and I like what I've seen. We've faced some tough situations in our early matches and responded very well."
UA defeated Whetstone 25-10, 25-13 in the first round at Central, and edged the host Tigers 18-25, 25-14, 25-17 in a semifinal. The Bears also played Licking Heights again on March 27, winning 25-17, 25-13, 27-25.
Litts replaced Matt Wion, who resigned after four seasons. UA was 4-14 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Ohio in 2013.
A 2008 graduate of Chardon High School in northeast Ohio, Litts played at Marietta College and teaches math at Hastings Middle School. She also coaches Hastings' eighth-grade girls team and coached the boys junior varsity B team last year.
In addition to Bevan, who should return later in this month, the other seniors are Nate Jones (middle hitter) and Eddie Simpson (defensive specialist).
Juniors are Kevin Baxley (right-side hitter), Colin Holstein (middle hitter), Garret Jones (setter/defensive specialist), Brett Karling (middle hitter), Gabe Orr (outside hitter), Jack Tingley (right-side hitter), Clayton Wells (setter) and Drew Whitcomb (outside hitter/defensive specialist).
"Gabe is the glue of the team," Litts said. "He's a great outside hitter and he can play in the back row when I need him to. He's very good on the spot and great with our younger players. He picks everybody else up."
Also on the roster is sophomore outside hitter Harrison Jackson.
"The guys have all come out ready to play," Litts said. "Hopefully with some confidence under our belts, we can keep this going."