The Thomas Worthington High School boys tennis team appears to be facing a rebuilding season this spring.

The Thomas Worthington High School boys tennis team appears to be facing a rebuilding season this spring.

The Cardinals lost six players from last season to graduation, including a two-time state qualifier in Casey Cempre. In addition, Tyler Stephen stepped down after three seasons as coach to become the coach at Dublin Jerome.

Last year, Thomas finished 11-5 overall and reached a Division I district final of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association tournament before losing to Jerome 4-1.

"Graduating six players is pretty difficult to come back from," said first-year coach Daniel Albert, whose team opened March 28 against Pickerington Central and has an OCC-Central Division match Thursday, March 29, at home against defending champion Upper Arlington. "It's a whole new experience for me and, as I jokingly told the players, hopefully we'll all come out alive."

Cempre, who played first singles the past two seasons, defeated Shaker Heights' David Gabriel 6-1, 6-3 in the first round at state last year before losing to Lodi Cloverleaf's Jacob Dunbar 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in a quarterfinal.

Cempre won the sectional title at Pickerington Central, defeating Westerville Central's Luke Buchanan 6-2, 6-1 in the final, and won the district title at Hilliard Davidson, defeating Dublin Coffman's Hiromi Nakayama 6-2, 6-1 in the final, to become the program's first district champion since 2000 and its first district champion in singles since 1998.

Thomas has two returnees in senior Carlos Waibl and junior Paul Bohorquez, both of whom are expected to play singles, Albert said.

Also on the team are juniors Ted Carson, Daniel Cermak and Sam Chen and sophomores Zachary Graham and Nick Meyer, all of whom played junior varsity a year ago, and junior Joshua Ong, a transfer from Worthington Christian.

"These guys want to work hard," said Albert, who was an assistant coach at Westerville Central the past three seasons. "I've been impressed by the way they show up and handle themselves on the tennis court."

Last season, Thomas finished second in the OCC-Central with a 6-1 record and 60 points, behind UA (7-0, 82) and ahead of Coffman (5-2, 59), Davidson (4-3, 41), Worthington Kilbourne (3-4, 40), Hilliard Darby (2-5, 27) Westland (1-6, 10) and Central Crossing (0-7, 1).

The first doubles team of 2011 graduates Dave Edison and Joey Wortman had the Cardinals' best finish in the league tournament, placing second after losing to UA's Nate Wallace and Eric Vannatta 6-2, 6-1 in the final.

The OCC-Central produced half of the area's state qualifiers in singles (Cempre and Nakayama) and doubles (Wallace and Vannatta and UA's Stu Little and Billy Weldon).

"When I interviewed for the job, athletics director Dan Girard talked about how competitive it is in the OCC-Central," Albert said. "We want to be competitive.

"I'd love to see us go .500 or win even more. That would be a pretty admirable feat considering the amount of players (Thomas) lost."

Kilbourne coach still learning about players

Kilbourne coach Steve Metzmaier entered the season with more questions than answers after losing six players from a year ago to graduation.

The Wolves, who finished 5-8 overall last season, opened March 28 against Wellington. They begin OCC-Central play Thursday, March 29, at home against Darby.

"The price of losing seniors comes down to what you're going to replace them with," said Metzmaier, who is in his 13th season leading the Wolves.

Among the players who graduated are Roger Juang and Sam Lazaroff, who lost to Pickerington Central's Dallas Stang and Chase Thomas 6-1, 6-2 loss in the first round of the Division I district tournament last year, and Brian Aguirre, who lost to New Albany's Sean Yun 6-1, 7-5 in the first round at district.

Kilbourne returns two players in senior Adith Balaji and junior Jack Klein. Metzmaier anticipated Klein would start the season at first singles, while Balaji and freshman George Liu were competing for second and third singles.

Senior newcomers Adam Hren and Josh Lawrence have emerged as the top candidates for first doubles.

"They've never played any kind of competitive tennis, but they're good athletes," Metzmaier said of Hren and Lawrence. "Their form is not pretty. They don't hold the rackets right, but they have a good concept of how to win."

Juniors Dallas DeWitt, Rahul Gupta and Julien Van Putten, sophomores Will Givens, Akil Gore, Vince Kim and Jack Wylie played junior varsity last year, while juniors Patrick Froehlich and Jiaan Moore and freshmen Steven Borchers, Sam Morrone and Jacob Self are new to the team.

"We have to figure out who people are," Metzmaier said. "We have so many new kids and I don't know their abilities."