Throughout what has been an unpredictable spring because of the weather, Collin Bender has helped keep the Hartley High School boys tennis team on track by communicating with teammates and, at times, helping run practice.
The past couple months, Bender has made a conscious effort to be a more vocal leader to complement his skills as the Hawks' first singles player. In March, he volunteered to be a leader in a Kairos retreat in Dayton, which helped him improve on his speaking and leadership skills.
"I'm not someone who normally gives talks like that, so it definitely opened my eyes and helped me grow in those kinds of skills," Bender said. "My coach (Dan Chun) turns to me as a leader in practice a lot. I definitely think being a Kairos leader brought out leadership in me because it was a new experience."
On the court, Bender is Hartley's No. 1 player for the fourth consecutive season.
Entering a CCL match against Watterson on May 1, both the Hawks and Bender were 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the league.
Hartley closes league action Thursday, May 3, at home against DeSales.
The Division II postseason begins May 10 in a sectional at Columbus Academy, and Bender is seeded third in singles as he looks to advance to district for the second time.
As a freshman, he lost in a sectional quarterfinal to fourth-seeded Jay Huff of Grandview 6-0, 7-6 (7-4) to fall one win shy of advancing to district.
Then in 2016, Bender upset Jonathan Alder's Logan Woods, the fourth seed at the Columbus School for Girls sectional, 6-0, 6-2 in a quarterfinal and went on to finish fourth at sectional.
At district that season, he lost to the eventual third-place finisher in the state, Jacob Wareti of Columbus Academy, 6-0, 6-0 in a first-round match.
Last spring, Bender was seeded third in the sectional at CSG but lost to Bexley's Jordan Koppes 6-2, 6-2 in a quarterfinal.
"Definitely, I'm going to try to go as far as I can, but I also want to help my team in practice and help my team go as far as we can," Bender said. "Playing some of the top guys in the state like Jacob Wareti was crazy. It was definitely in his favor, but it was really cool getting an opportunity to play against him and it was big for our school."
Bender, who has been playing tennis since first grade and considers his serve to be a strength of his game, plans to attend Kent State, where he might play at the club or intramural level.
"Collin is a good kid," Chun said. "He's more of a power player. I think his power with his returns has been a lot better and his accuracy has improved from last year. But I think what's helping him is it's his program and he's the top guy. He's taken a lot more active role as a captain."
Hartley beat Ready 3-2 in a CCL match April 10 and defeated Grandview on April 12 and Fisher Catholic on April 25 by 5-0 scores.
Also picking up wins against Fisher Catholic were Max Sauer at second singles, Andrew Croswell at third singles, Ryan Ruth and Mac Wieging at first doubles and Evan Armstrong and Sulimaan Priest at second doubles.
Croswell is a sophomore, while the others are seniors.
"A lot of the guys wanted to come out and have fun," Chun said. "I'm very happy with the way they're competing."
Girls lacrosse team seeing positives
With a 13-7 victory over Olentangy Orange on April 27, the girls lacrosse team snapped a four-game skid and won its second game of the season.
That doesn't mean there haven't been significant strides made since the beginning of the season, according to coach Molly Gilbert.
"We've come together a lot over the season so far despite our record," Gilbert said. "We've played some tough competition, but we've been improving individually and as a unit defensively, offensively and in the midfield game by game. (That) is exactly what you want to see as a coach."
Senior Killian Sweeney scored six goals against Orange and had 17 through seven games for the Hawks, who were 2-5 overall before facing Whetstone on April 30 and 1-3 in the Central Independent League before playing Bexley on May 1.
Seniors Abigail Bergman, Luci Kanowsky, Jordan Kaylor and Hannah McFeeters, junior Sienna Caridi and freshmen Sydney Onega and Sidney Sheridan have been other key contributors.
Through six games, McFeeters had 12 goals and had won 30 draw controls, Kanowsky had 11 goals and Onega had 13 goals and 25 draw controls while Sheridan was saving about 50 percent of the shot attempts she faced as goalkeeper.
"We can always improve on our transition game and continue to connect better with our passing up the field," Gilbert said. "We've seen vast improvement on this so far this season. You can really see the team connecting together better each game to move the ball up the field together."
Baseball team finding rhythm
With a four-game winning streak that included CCL wins over St. Charles (3-1 on April 25) and Ready (13-0 on April 26), the baseball team found itself back in the league title race at the beginning of the week.
Hartley was 13-5 overall and 4-2 in the CCL before closing the league schedule April 30 against DeSales and May 2 against Watterson. The Hawks split a pair of games April 28, beating Worthington Christian 4-0 and losing to Olentangy Orange 3-2.
DeSales was 5-1 in the CCL entering play April 30 and has a league game remaining against St. Charles.
Against St. Charles, Jacob Culbertson earned the pitching victory.
Hartley also beat the Cardinals 3-0 on April 13 when Culbertson also was the winning pitcher.
"Beating St. Charles felt great for me and the team," Culbertson said. "We haven't swept those guys in almost 10 years and it really boosted our confidence. I was locating my pitches well on the mound (in the second matchup). My defense was phenomenal. We played baseball as a team, getting timely hits and making the routine plays.
"Winning all these games really helps a young team like us succeed. We have been playing great as a team."
Below are the coming schedules for the Hartley baseball, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis and track & field teams:
May 3 -- At Pickerington North
May 5 -- Home vs. Granville
May 10 -- Home vs. seventh-seeded Buckeye Valley in second round of Division II district tournament. Hartley is the sixth seed.
*May 3 -- At Watterson
May 7 -- Home vs. Delaware
May 3 -- At Olentangy
May 4 -- At Olentangy Orange
May 7 -- At Granville
May 8 -- Home vs. 21st-seeded Independence in first round of Division II district tournament. Winner plays at fifth-seeded Big Walnut in second round May 10. Hartley is the 10th seed.
*May 3 -- Home vs. DeSales
May 4 -- Home vs. Groveport
May 7 -- At Reynoldsburg
TRACK & FIELD
May 4 -- Larkin/Crosten Invitational at Upper Arlington
May 8, 10 -- CCL meet at home