With only one letterwinner returning, first-year Groveport Madison High School boys tennis coach Dylan Merle will be teaching the fundamentals and sharpening the skills of his players this season.
That's right in sync with his job as a teaching pro at New Albany Tennis Center.
"It's the same no matter what skill level you're teaching: You want to see improvement in technique and fundamentals," said Merle, a 2012 Groveport graduate who replaced Bernie Sleshi as coach during the offseason. "I'm also a believer in trying to have fun every single day. High school sports are extra-curricular activities. They are choosing to be here and you want to give them something to enjoy so that they will come back."
Last spring in Sleshi's only season as coach, Groveport finished 6-6 overall and went 3-2 in the OCC-Capital Division to finish third behind New Albany (5-0) and Big Walnut (4-1).
The Cruisers' lone returnee is senior Christopher Salva, who was paired with 2017 graduate Jonathon Thomas to play doubles in the Division I sectional tournament at Reynoldsburg last season. The duo lost in the first round.
Salva was the only underclassmen in the postseason lineup for Groveport last year.
"Christopher is an above-average player with a very good forehand," Merle said. "He also has a strong cross-court backhand slice and a very good first serve. But playing No. 1 (singles) in this district is a pretty tough challenge."
Senior Miles Mason is playing second singles and junior Cutter Barns is at third singles, while senior Clayton Saunders and sophomore Dylan Uptegraft opened the season at first doubles and freshman Zachary Copeland and junior Zion King are playing second doubles.
The Cruisers have no other players on their roster.
"We've only got seven, so we'll use them all," Merle said. "Some of the guys have played tennis before, but Chris is the only one who played varsity last year. This will be Miles' third year and Cutter also played one season before, but not at the varsity level."
The Cruisers, who don't have a home court for the second year in a row because the new school is under construction, opened March 23 with a 4-1 loss to Hamilton Township before losing to Franklin Heights 3-2 in their league opener April 5. They were 0-2 overall and 0-1 in the league before playing April 10 at Canal Winchester.
"I think these guys have great team spirit and are willing to help themselves get better," Merle said. "They have high energy, work hard and they're great friends. It's a good group to grow with and learn."
Baseball team heating up in cold
The baseball team had won five consecutive games entering the week after opening with a 4-0 loss to Licking Heights in the first game of a doubleheader March 24.
The Cruisers improved 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Capital by beating visiting Canal Winchester 10-0 on April 6 for their fourth consecutive shutout. They played at Canal Winchester on April 9.
Groveport beat Licking Heights 9-4 in the second game of the March 24 doubleheader. The Cruisers then defeated Bexley 13-0 on March 29 and swept Franklin Heights in a pair of league games, winning 14-0 on April 2 and 11-0 on April 4, before shutting out Canal Winchester.
"We're absolutely getting great pitching from the guys we're running out to the mound, which is what we need and expect this season," coach Dave Eft said. "I couldn't be more pleased with our start to the season."
Through six games, senior Luis Pantoja was 2-0 on the mound, junior Logan Mayes was 1-0 and sophomore Caden Lowe was 2-1.
Softball team has strong road trip
The softball team turned in a strong performance in the Grand Strand Softball Classic held April 2-6 in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The Cruisers went 4-1 in the event, defeating Shenandoah Junction (West Virginia) Jefferson 6-1 on April 2, Chesterfield (South Carolina) Cheraw 2-1 on April 4, Bamberg (South Carolina) 14-2 on April 5 and Penfield (New York) 10-1 on April 6 and losing to LaGrange Keystone 2-1 on April 3.
Groveport was 7-2 overall before playing Upper Arlington on April 10 and opened OCC-Capital play April 11 at Franklin Heights.
"I'd say we timed our trip pretty well because we got in five games and most teams up (here) didn't play," coach Chris Downing said. "Now we're just hoping we're not going to get back there and have to take a week off due to the weather.
"We played pretty well. Sara Gockenbach is pitching very well and, for the most part, we've swung the bats well. There were a few games where we've slammed the ball, but right at the defense. So our offensive numbers could be better, but that's part of the game."
Entering the week, Maddy MacKenzie had a team-high .429 batting average and a team-best nine runs scored. Other offensive standouts were Gockenbach (.414, 7 runs, 7 RBI), Carsyn Saunders (.375, 7 RBI), Macie Sporleder (.360), Lanie White (.357, 2 home runs, 2 doubles) and Jodi Kern (team-high 8 RBI).
Before their spring break trip, the Cruisers defeated Westland 21-0 on March 26 and split a pair of games March 31, losing to Central Crossing 1-0 and beating Bloom-Carroll 9-6.
Girls runners excel in Newark meet
The girls track and field team totaled 55 points to place sixth of 14 teams in the Newark Invitational on March 31, behind champion Olentangy Orange (103).
The Cruisers won the 1,600-meter relay in 4 minutes, 17.58 seconds with a lineup of Madison Young, Toni Woods, Chenise Smith and Victoria Williams. Placing second were Young in the 400 (1:04.39), the 400 relay of Atanna Gunnell, Smith, Emily Allen and Woods (52.17), the 800 relay of Woods, Smith, Amara Towns and Allen (1:51.99) and the 3,200 relay of Young, Melanie Torres, Williams and Cherub Clarke (10:42.94).
Torres placed third in the 3,200 (12:40.67).
The boys team finished 11th (24) of 16 teams in the Newark Invitational, behind champion Big Walnut (99).
Illyaas Haji was runner-up in the 3,200 (10:30.67) and the 800 relay of Naseem Bowers, Tahzmere Givens, Esco Davis and Jahlil Underdown placed third (45.69).
Groveport was to play host to the Cruiser Invitational on April 3, but the meet was canceled because of bad weather.
March 23 -- at Hamilton Township
*April 5 -- at Franklin Heights
*April 10 -- at Canal Winchester
*April 12 -- at New Albany
April 13 -- at Westerville Central
April 16 -- Hartley at Wolfe Park
*April 17 -- at Newark
*April 19 -- at Big Walnut
April 23 -- at Central Crossing
April 24 -- at Pickerington Central
April 26 -- at Westerville North
May 1 -- at Whitehall
May 2 -- at Westerville South
May 3 -- at Teays Valley
Below are the coming schedules for the Groveport Madison baseball, softball and track & field teams:
*April 13 -- Home vs. New Albany
April 14 -- At Hartley (DH)
*April 16 -- Home vs. Newark
*April 18 -- At Newark
*April 12 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
April 13 -- At Watterson
*April 16 -- Home vs. New Albany
*April 18 -- Home vs. Newark
TRACK & FIELD
April 13 -- New Albany Invitational