When Ben White took over the Whitehall-Yearling High School boys tennis team before this season, he looked to senior Seth Grassel for leadership and guidance.
Grassel has been instrumental in White's transition, the coach said, by playing first singles and serving as a captain.
It also has been a fresh start for Grassel, who missed last season after tearing the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee while playing recreational basketball in February 2012.
Grassel played first singles his freshman and sophomore seasons and returned to that spot this spring despite last season's layoff.
"Last season was horrible," he said. "It was probably the worst thing ever. ... I was so excited to come back. I wouldn't miss it for anything this year. I keep getting better. I just have to get back into things because missing a year was hard."
Grassel earned his first win this season in the MSL-Cardinal/Ohio Division tournament May 4 at Columbus Academy, defeating Grandview's Nick Luckenbach 10-8 in a quarterfinal before losing to Academy's Jacob Wareti 10-0 in a semifinal.
The overall standings in the league were incomplete because matches had yet to be played, but Academy won the tournament with 15 points and finished first overall.
Whitehall tied Fisher Catholic and Grandview for fourth (2) in the league tournament.
Ethan Miller earned Whitehall's other point, defeating Fisher Catholic's Evan Virgin 10-2 in a quarterfinal at third singles.
White said Grassel was the obvious choice to play first singles this season.
"He's definitely our best player," White said. "I could tell from the first practice that he had the most experience, knowledge and talent, easily. I'd like to see him win a couple matches before the end of the season to get his confidence back."
Whitehall will compete in a Division II sectional tournament May 16 and 18 at Academy. The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament May 24 and 25 at Academy.
Following graduation next month, Grassel plans to join the Air Force in August.
"I've been thinking about this all senior year," he said. "When it came down to it I felt it was a better decision than anything else."
White also has been impressed with the play of junior Jiawen Zhen, who had three wins at second singles before the league tournament.
"Jiawen is very consistent," White said. "From the outset, he was the clear No. 2. He has really developed his skills over the past year. ... He can hit with Seth pretty well. I've been pleased."
The Rams finished 0-6 in the league during the regular season and were 0-10 overall before playing Eastmoor Academy on May 7.
"The kids are always ready to go and have a good effort," White said. "Sometimes we just don't have the talent to compete or we just come up short or we don't have the right players on the right day."
Boys track team takes 2nd at Academy
The boys track and field team finished second (76.5) behind host Columbus Academy (93) and ahead of Beechcroft (42.5) and Tree of Life (18) in a quad meet April 30.
Winners were Mohamed Toure in the 400 meters (52.5 seconds), Khilil Tolbert in the 200 (22.6), Tolbert, James McDuffie, Paulus Thomas and Isaiah Turner in the 400 relay (45.3) and Tolbert, Toure, Turner and Jaleel Morgan in the 800 relay (1:34.2).
The girls finished third (42) behind Academy (99) and Beechcroft (54) and ahead of Tree of Life (30) as Kayla Williams won the 100 hurdles (17.5) and 300 hurdles (52.0).
"(Last) week was a good week for training and also provided some rest and a good transition from the training portion of the season into the serious competition part of the season," said coach Zach Wright, whose teams will compete in the MSL-Ohio meet Tuesday, May 14, and May 17 at Heath. "With the good weather and big meets approaching, times and distances should start improving and it is time to step up and be heard."
Baseball team preps for district tourney
Coach Bill Welsh said the baseball team will use its final games of the regular season to prepare for the Division II district tournament, which begins Tuesday, May 14.
The Rams are seeded 20th and will visit ninth-seeded Sparta Highland in first round Tuesday, May 14. The winner plays DeSales or Brookhaven in second round May 16.
The Rams lost to host Columbus Academy 5-4 on April 1. Whitehall defeated the Vikings 4-3 on April 15 for its only win in the MSL-Ohio before playing Granville on May 6.
"With the tournament coming up, we feel like we can compete with anybody," Welsh said.
"We are just a few key mistakes away from winning these close games. Our goal is to keep working hard to get over that hump. I give a lot of credit to the guys that have shown up every day, worked hard to get better and continue to battle through some frustrating times."