Coach Mark Liefeld never underestimated the talent on his Bexley High School boys tennis team.
The scrappy, relentless Lions fought their way into their first Division II semifinal of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association state team tournament since 2012 and went on to win their first state title since 1975, when the event had only one division.
Bexley defeated Ottawa Hills 3-1 in a state semifinal May 28 at Reynoldsburg before defeating Gates Mills Hawken 3-2 in the championship match later that day.
"What I have is a team of very good athletes and overachievers, guys who don't quit," said Liefeld, who completed his fourth season. "Coming into the final match, I am not sure either (assistant) coach (Jeff) Levy or I would have said we matched up very well, but we never backed down and kept plugging away and kept fighting. That is what this team has been doing all year."
Against Hawken, senior Josh Meyer and sophomore Leo Schottenstein defeated Sauren Khosla and Ryan Leizman 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2 to seal the state title.
"Josh and I all season have been the reliable court every single match," Schottenstein said. "It was just great to do it. Going into this year, I just did not think that we would be here. That's what makes this so special."
Liefeld said it was fitting that his first-doubles team clinched the championship.
"I couldn't have scripted it any better because they have been our mainstay all year," said Liefield, whose team finished 14-6 overall. "For the match to come down to that court, I couldn't have set it up any better. I told them before the third set that this was exactly what we had hoped for.
"They are both very good athletes and they work well together. They pick each other up when they are down. They have done a great job with that all year."
Also against Hawken, junior Mark Nudelman lost to Stephanie Shulman 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 at first singles, sophomore Christian Roddy defeated Neil Levari 7-5, 6-4 at second singles and sophomore Jordan Koppes lost to Josef Horwarth 7-5, 6-2 at third singles. Senior Noah Hoffman and sophomore Aaron Young defeated Andrew Garcia and Michael Lee 6-1, 6-4 at second doubles.
Nudelman and Schottenstein also teamed to place fourth in the Division II state individual tournament May 26 and 27 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
"Our serve has improved from earlier in the season," Nudelman said. "Our first match together was at the beginning of May. I don't know that we thought we'd make it this far."
To reach an OTCA state semifinal, the Lions defeated Columbus Academy 3-2 on May 16 in the regional final.
Bexley lost to Academy 4-1 on April 25 in an MSL-Ohio Division match. That helped the Vikings win the league title at 6-0 with 46 points, ahead of the Lions (43, 5-1).
Meyer, Nudelman and Roddy were first-team all-league. Hoffman, Koppes and Schottenstein were on the second team and Young was honorable mention.
Fagin takes fourth
at state in 3,200
Junior Molly Fagin led the girls track and field team in the Division II state meet June 2 and 3 at Ohio State, finishing fourth in the 3,200 meters (11 minutes, 5.96 seconds).
Senior teammate Julia Cohn was 10th (11:26.27).
As one of the top eight finishers, Fagin reached the podium in her second trip to state. Last season, she finished 13th (11:44.59).
This time, Fagin entered the last lap in sixth place but was able to find another gear to move up.
"I know I have a great kick and it put me in a good position," said Fagin, whose team tied for 41st (5 points) behind champion Beachwood (35) as 75 teams scored. "My best time before was an 11:11, so I was pretty happy.
"I wasn't as nervous as I was last season. I think that experience helped me going into this race."
The boys team did not have any state competitors.
Fagin won the 3,200 (11:13.23) in the regional that concluded May 27 at Lexington, and Cohn was fourth (11:19.02) as the top four finishers in each event advanced to state.
The 3,200 relay of Fagin, Cohn and seniors Abbie Sapp and Kayla Steinke finished eighth (9:53.45).
Also competing at regional were junior Libby Brown in the 300 hurdles (eighth, 50.12), freshman Lucy Powers in the long jump (12th, 15 feet, 3 3/4 inches), the eighth-place 800 relay (1:48.45) of Brown, junior Maggie Bunker, sophomore Margaux Harding and Powers and the 14th-place 400 relay (52.39) of Bunker, junior Leanna Leggett, Harding and Powers.
The boys 400 relay of sophomore Alexander Garside, junior Henry Bredemeier, sophomore Charles McFadden and senior Simon Kroos was fifth (44.12). Senior Peter Hayden was seventh in the 3,200 (9:48.08) and was a member of the ninth-place 3,200 relay (8:09.55) with junior Alexander Hirsch, sophomore Grant Halliday and junior Grant Heilman.
Senior Wade Randle was 13th in the shot put (47-5 3/4).
In the MSL-Ohio meet May 9 and 12 at Whitehall, the girls finished third (134) behind Grandview (144) and Academy (136.5) and ahead of Worthington Christian (80), London (66), Whitehall (46) and West Jefferson (37.5). The boys were fourth (96) behind Grandview (146), Worthington Christian (145) and Whitehall (100.5) and ahead of Academy (92.5), London (46) and West Jefferson (19).
Girls lacrosse team
continued to grow
The girls lacrosse team continued to improve as the season progressed, finishing 12-5 overall.
The fourth-seeded Lions lost to top-seeded DeSales 14-13 on May 24 in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal. They had lost to the Stallions 11-6 on May 4 in Central Independent League play.
Bexley defeated Dayton Carroll 18-4 on May 17 in its tournament opener before beating Columbus School for Girls 12-9 in a regional quarterfinal May 20.
The Lions closed the regular season by defeating Academy 13-12 on May 11. It was only their second win in their last eight meetings.
"We played some of our best lacrosse at the end of the season against some of our biggest rivals," said coach Gillian Thomson, who completed her 12th season. "Our seniors knew each other so well by the end of the season that they seemed to know where to find each other almost without looking."
Bexley tied Watterson for third (4-3) in the CIL behind DeSales (7-0) and Academy (5-2) and ahead of CSG (3-4), Hartley (3-4), Granville (2-5) and Wellington (0-7).
Midfielder Olivia Anderson, attacker Ashley Bolon, attacker Kate Bridge, attacker Courtney Kondracke and midfielder Grace Maley led a 10-player senior class. Maley (63 goals, 14 assists, 69 groundballs) was second-team all-state and first-team all-region and all-league, and Bolon (41 goals, 29 assists, 36 groundballs) was second-team all-region and first-team all-league.
Bridge (69 goals, 9 assists) was honorable mention all-region and second-team all-league, Anderson (21 goals, 17 assists, 45 groundballs) was second-team all-league and Kondracke (17 goals, 10 assists) was honorable mention all-league.
The Lions expect to return their goalkeeper in freshman Tessa Ziegler. Also expected back are juniors Abby Fisher (midfielder) and Sofia Loeser (defender) and sophomores Emma Dressel (defender) and Rose Thomas (midfielder).
Boys lacrosse team
had 'amazing season'
First-year coach Stony Burks said the boys lacrosse team was much better than its 7-9 record.
"What an amazing season, although our record doesn't reflect that," said Burks, whose ninth-seeded team lost at eighth-seeded Buckeye Valley 7-6 on May 16 in the second round of the Division II, Region 7 tournament. "We lost seven close games in which we led going into the fourth quarter. We were bothered by some injuries, but we definitely had a season to remember."
The Lions had 15 seniors led by Eric Crane (midfielder; 33 goals, 13 assists, 137 groundballs), Kyle Fulford (attacker; 14 goals, 6 assists), Jake Greenberg (defender; 65 groundballs), Max Hooker (midfielder; 5 goals, 3 assists), John-Michael Rogers (attacker; 33 goals, 13 assists) and Zak Welsh (goalie; 200 saves)
Crane and Welsh, who will play at Alabama-Huntsville, were both honorable mention all-state.
Junior midfielder Owen Rupp led the team in scoring with 35 goals and 18 assists. Sophomore attacker Hunter Hilgeman led the team with 20 assists to go with 15 goals and 38 groundballs.
Also expected back are juniors Zander Kauffman (attacker), Grant McDermott (attacker) and Austin Sher (defender), sophomores Tommy Lee (defender), Alec Russo (midfielder) and Felix Underwood (defender) and freshmen Tyler Behl (midfielder), Carter Brenner (attacker) and Drew Yaffe (midfielder).