A lot of what Upper Arlington High School boys tennis coach Will Thieman sees in his return to the program reminds him of how things were when he played for the Golden Bears.
"They've brought the intensity. Not a lot has changed with me stepping in," said Thieman, a 2009 UA graduate who took over for 11-year coach Amos Allison in December. "Practices are still intense. Everybody goes at each other hard. We have depth. A lot of guys are versatile and they really want to be successful. They will do whatever it takes."
With senior Jack Zelezny at first singles for the third consecutive season and three other prominent players returning from a year ago, UA was 3-1 overall before its OCC-Central Division opener April 11 at Hilliard Davidson.
Seniors Jack Hughes and Jack Schadek also are back, as is junior Josh Cole, who was injured for most of the regular season last year but did play doubles at the Division I sectional and district tournaments.
At state last season, Zelezny went 0-1 in singles while Hughes and 2016 graduate Eric Hunter were 1-1 in doubles.
"I feel like I am a lot more confident than before, and I think I can be a good leader of this team," Zelezny said. "I know my strengths, what I'm good at and not good at. I have high expectations for myself. I have high expectations for the entire team."
In a season-opening 5-0 win over visiting Bexley on March 30, Cole played second singles and Hughes was at third singles. Schadek and junior Elliot Jones played first doubles, while freshmen Will Reynolds and Nathan Yu were at second doubles.
"We can do a lot of things with this lineup because we have depth," said Thieman, who coached Olentangy Liberty's girls team last fall, a job he plans to keep, and was Watterson's boys coach in 2016. "We'll have a few lineup changes. I feel pretty good that we can play some guys at doubles and some at singles. We have that luxury of changing our lineup around, and I plan to do that depending on what we need on a given day."
The Bears went 2-1 in Cincinnati last weekend, losing to Cincinnati St. Xavier 5-0 on April 7 before defeating Cincinnati Country Day 4-1 and Cincinnati Indian Hill 3-2 the next day.
Last year, UA finished 14-5 overall and went 6-0 in the OCC-Central to win its 34th consecutive league championship, ahead of Olentangy Liberty (5-1). But the Bears fell short of their fifth consecutive Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I state tournament, losing to New Albany 3-2 in a district final.
The Bears' originally scheduled league opener April 6 at home against Central Crossing was postponed because of bad weather.
UA will begin the OTCA district tournament at home against Reynoldsburg or Olentangy Orange on a date to be determined.
Rounding out the roster are sophomores Nick Gruss and Lance Li.
"I really like our underclassmen," Schadek said.
"Elliot Jones and I have played doubles with Will Reynolds and Nathan Yu almost every day, trying to get them ready for what they're going to see and working on everything we can. You can definitely tell they've played before."