Connor Clark had just improved to 2-0 on the season, but the Canal Winchester High School boys tennis team's first singles player barely cracked a smile as he left the court.

In his third year atop the Indians' lineup, the junior has emphasized being more even keeled regardless of the result.

"I just feel like my game is just a lot better," Clark said after a 6-2, 6-1 win over Big Walnut's Matt Pushkin during the Indians' home opener April 5. "I handle things a lot better when I get frustrated (than I used to). If I hit a bad shot, I know how to calm myself down. If I hit a good shot, I will pump myself up to give myself extra confidence for the next point.

"It's nice to come back and see my improvement from last year and the team's improvement. I see a lot of potential."

Clark, senior Zeke Blanchard and sophomore Caden Sweeney are among the returnees from a year ago, when Canal Winchester went 1-13 overall and 1-4 in the OCC-Capital Division.

This season, the Indians were 1-1 overall before a match against Reynoldsburg on April 9 and 0-1 in the league entering an April 10 match against Groveport.

Canal Winchester opened April 4 with a 4-1 win at Hamilton Township before losing 3-2 to Big Walnut in their home and OCC-Capital opener.

Several new players are expected to play regularly, including freshman Jeremy Irby at second singles and senior Devin Mullett at first doubles. Sophomore returnees Drew Adams and Zane Diehl played second doubles in both matches last week.

Mullett is a first-year player.

"We want them to play point-to-point, ignore the elements and put the best shot they can on the ball," second-year coach Doug Welsh said. "It sounds simplistic, and it is, but we work a lot on movement of the feet and movement of the hips. These kids are really competing and trying to implement the fundamentals we are teaching. They're running down every ball and going the distance with every point.

"They're off to a much better start than what I think they know."

Rounding out the roster are junior Corey Berner, sophomores Vinny Caskey and Mason Saunders and freshman Jake Chapman.

Sweeney's goal is to move up the lineup, perhaps even challenge Clark at first singles. He began last year at first doubles and eventually moved to third singles.

"I am loving my accuracy because I can pinpoint where I want the ball to go," Sweeney said. "I struggle in the wind, but I think everybody does a little bit. I just need to improve my serve. Right now, it's too low and I want to get it to go wherever I want it to go and however fast I want it to go. I think when I do that, I'll get a good handle on where I want to be."

The Indians sought to exceed last year's win total when they took on Reynoldsburg, but Welsh chooses to de-emphasize long-term goals in favor of incremental improvement.

"Our practices have been better. Our rallies and drill quality have been better, and their dynamic as a team has been good for us, too," Welsh said. "As long as they compete the way they are and they are able to go point-to-point for the whole match and be strong, we'll be thrilled."

Softball team ready for busy schedule

The softball team spent only a few hours on a diamond during the first few weeks of the season, instead practicing inside as bad weather forced their first four scheduled games and five of their first six to be either postponed or canceled.

Canal Winchester was 1-2 before playing Hilliard Darby on April 10. The Indians opened with an 18-4, five-inning win at Westland on April 2 before losing to Pickerington North 15-11 in their home opener April 5 and Dublin Coffman 6-1 the next day.

Against Westland, Dani Skinner homered and Brooklyn Best, Kaylee Dunkle and Kylie Harmon each added three hits.

Sam Peters had a two-run home run in the seventh inning against North.

Even though limited time outside did not appear to negatively affect the Indians, coach Casey Whitlatch and the team were ready for better conditions.

"Practicing inside is tough. You can only do so much," Whitlatch said. "We set up six or seven stations in the gym and work on inside and outside pitches and change of pace pitches. I don't like to use the pitching machine too much or to bunt off it. We've worked on our changeup hitting and have done a nice job with that.

"It's important to get as much work in as we can. You know that before long, we'll be playing every day."

Barring schedule changes, the game against North began a stretch of 19 games in 26 days, including the team's OCC-Capital opener April 11 against Big Walnut and a Thursday, April 12, game at defending league champion Groveport.

"We're excited to see what we can do in the league," Whitlatch said. "Big Walnut was pretty good last year. Groveport didn't lose a (league) game last year (going 10-0). We'll find out pretty quickly how we stack up against those teams."

Pitching guiding baseball team

Any doubts baseball coach Tyler Kuhn had about his pitching staff entering the season were quickly put to rest, as the Indians allowed two runs or fewer in five of their first six games.

The Indians gave up 21 runs through their first seven games, although the vast majority came in a 6-2 loss to Lancaster on March 31 and a 10-0, six-inning loss at Groveport on April 6. They were 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Capital before playing Groveport on April 9.

Canal Winchester started 3-0, with a 5-2 win over Circle-ville on March 26, a 6-2, 10-inning victory at Bloom-Carroll on March 27 and a 3-0 win over Williamsport Westfall on March 30 at V.A. Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.

"Coming into the season, I'm not sure I thought of (pitching) as a strength, but the guys did well in intrasquad games and in scrimmages and that carried into the season," Kuhn said. "Our pitchers are built up in terms of pitching count and consistency. We're in good shape. Our guys have thrown well enough in every game to give us a chance to win."

The Indians began OCC-Capital play by splitting two 1-0 games against Big Walnut.

Senior pitcher Justin Cox allowed two hits and recorded six strikeouts April 2 in a home loss to the Golden Eagles in the league opener for both teams, and three days later sophomore Reece Klamorick struck out two and gave up five hits in a road victory.

Cox also had the Indians' only hit April 2 when the Golden Eagles scored an unanswered run in the first inning.

In the April 5 game, Kavian McMillan drove in Canal Winchester's only run with a hit in the third inning.

The game against Lancaster, which was started by junior Bryce Palmer, was tied at 2 into the sixth inning before the Golden Gales scored four runs.

"We've been a small-ball team so far," Kuhn said. "As we get more games in and see more competition, the bats will heat up. They'll come around."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BOYS TENNIS

April 3 -- at Lancaster

April 4 -- at Hamilton Township

*April 5 -- vs. Big Walnut

April 9 -- at Reynoldsburg

*April 10 -- vs. Groveport

*April 12 -- at Franklin Heights

April 16 -- at Logan

*April 17 -- vs. New Albany

*April 19 -- at Newark

April 21 -- Reynoldsburg Doubles Tournament

April 23 -- at Logan Elm

April 24 -- Ready at Westgate Park

April 26 -- vs. Grandview

April 30 -- vs. Central Crossing

May 2 -- at Teays Valley

May 3 -- vs. Bloom-Carroll

May 8 -- at Whitehall

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Canal Winchester baseball, softball and track & field teams:

BASEBALL

April 12 -- At Bexley

*April 13 -- Home vs. Franklin Heights

April 14 -- Home vs. Youngstown Ursuline (DH)

*April 16 -- Home vs. New Albany

*April 18 -- At New Albany

SOFTBALL

*April 12 -- At Groveport

April 14 -- At Licking Valley (DH)

*April 16 -- At Franklin Heights

April 17 -- Home vs. Fisher Catholic

*April 18 -- Home vs. New Albany

TRACK & FIELD

April 14 -- Hank Smith Invitational at Heath

April 17 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central and Reynoldsburg

*League contest