Tennis is usually considered to be an individual sport, but the Olentangy Orange High School boys team doesn't subscribe to that notion.
The Pioneers won their second consecutive OCC-Buckeye Division championship thanks to hard work and team bonding in the offseason.
"You lay the groundwork for months and months and months, so when it comes time to play big matches the players are ready on paper to overachieve and they do," coach Matt Rutherford said. "It's players like Ben (Thompson), Tejas (Venkatachalam) and David Cavote who really make the difference.
"Ben was probably our 15th or 16th best player last year, but he worked extremely hard and played for hours and hours in the summer. The guys on the varsity would play two, three or four hours a day together over the summer. That not only created cohesiveness, but the better players helped the other guys bring their skill levels up. Our best players don't look at themselves as being our best players, but they see themselves as a part of the team. That gives you the natural leadership you need to get that team bond."
The Pioneers went 5-0 in the OCC-Buckeye, finishing ahead of runner-up Olentangy (4-1). They defeated the Braves 3-2 on April 20 for their 10th consecutive league victory.
"I think since we won it last year, it made us want to win it back-to-back even more," said junior Alex Heiden, who plays first singles. "I think that drive really helped us."
Cavote, who teams with Thompson in doubles, said that drive was fueled in the offseason.
"We worked super-hard in the weight room and we're all super-close, so winning the league again means a lot," Cavote said. "Olentangy had one of (its) best lineups ever, so that win has given us a lot of confidence. I hasn't really sunk in because the season isn't over yet, but we're extremely happy to win OCCs."
Heiden and second-singles player Jordan Phelps will be taking the team aspect to another level by playing doubles in the postseason. They are the top-seeded team in a Division I sectional tournament Thursday, May 10, and Saturday May 12, at Hilliard Bradley.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to district May 17 at Bradley and May 19 at Upper Arlington.
"Jordan and Alex really get along well and they want to accomplish something together," said Rutherford, whose team was 8-2 overall after losing to New Albany 4-1 on May 7 in a district quarterfinal of the Division I OTCA team tournament. "Alex might have been able to qualify for state in singles, but it goes back to them being team guys. It's more fun for them to accomplish things as a team. It's a chance to make an individual sport more like a team sport."
Phelps, a senior, qualified for state in doubles as a sophomore with 2017 graduate Jonathan Zhuravel.
"In singles, you only have to worry about yourself, but with doubles you have to communicate with your partner where you are serving and what you are doing with the serve," Phelps said. "We practiced all winter in doubles, practicing every Monday on serving and volleying. That should help us a lot."
Cavote and Thompson are seeded third in doubles at sectional. Pranav Krishnan, Zach Shaver and Venkatachalam will play singles.
Track teams prep for league, district
The boys and girls track and field teams aim to defend their championships in the OCC-Buckeye meet Thursday, May 10, and Saturday, May 12, at home.
The Pioneers then compete in the Division I, district 3 meet Wednesday, May 16, May 17 and May 19 at Hilliard Darby. The top four finishers in each event advance to regional May 23 and 25 at Pickerington North.
The Pioneers swept the team titles in the Delaware County Elite 8 meet May 4 at home.
Thanks in part to winning all four relays, the boys scored 173 points to finish ahead of runner-up Liberty (119).
Andrew Schroff, Tim Volkmar, Griffin DeBolt and Tyler King won the 3,200-meter relay (8 minutes, 22.62 seconds), and Alex Kenish, Kevin Acheampong, Jaeschel Acheampong and King finished first in the 1,600 relay (2:28.14).
Jaeschel Acheampong joined Brandon Ransom, Manny Anderson and Max Stewart on the first-place 800 relay (1:30.51), and Ransom, Stewart and Kevin Acheampong were on the winning 400 relay (43.48) with Joel Sarpong.
Jayden Rodgers won the 110 hurdles (14.2) and was first in the high jump (6 feet, 2 inches), and Jaeschel Acheampong won the long jump (21-9 3/4). Kenish won the 800 (2:01.02), Tommy Wintering was first in the 1,600 (4:27.03) and Schroff won the 3,200 (9:51.96).
Mackenzie Blendick set a program record in the 100 hurdles (15.13) to lead the girls team, which scored 149 points to outdistance runner-up Liberty (112.67).
She also anchored the first-place 400 relay (49.22) with Brenda Agyekum, Aylessa Carter and Maya Patterson.
Other individual winners were Agyekum in the 100 (12.43), Grace Frye in the discus (121-3), Allie Guagenti in the 800 (2:20.21) and Katie Priest in the 300 hurdles (46.89).
Baseball team surges into district tourney
The 23rd-seeded baseball team had won four consecutive games before playing 35th-seeded Central Crossing in the second round of the Division I district tournament May 9.
The Pioneers were 15-11 and had won seven of nine games.
The second-round winner advances to a district semifinal Tuesday, May 15, at a neutral site to be determined against top-seeded Liberty or 31st-seeded Westerville North.
Orange defeated North 4-3 on April 20, 9-0 on April 26 and 7-1 on May 4 in OCC-Buckeye play and lost to Liberty 3-1 on April 5, 8-2 on April 10 and 4-1 on April 25 in league action.
The district final is May 17 at a neutral site to be determined.
Softball team falls in district tourney
The softball team lost to 31st-seeded DeSales 6-0 on May 7 at home in the opening round of the Division I district tournament.
Alex Ronk doubled and singled to lead the 26th-seeded Pioneers, who finished 10-18 overall.
Alyssa Laisure had two singles.
Below are the coming schedules for the Orange boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse and boys volleyball teams:
May 10 -- Home vs. DeSales
May 15 -- At seventh-seeded Medina in first round of Division I, Region 1 tournament. Winner plays at second-seeded Olentangy Liberty or 13th-seeded Dublin Scioto in second round May 18. The Pioneers are seeded eighth.
May 11 -- At Columbus Academy
May 14 -- Home vs. 14th-seeded Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in first round of Division I, Region 1 tournament. Winner plays at second-seeded Liberty or 12th-seeded Westerville Central in second round May 18. The Pioneers are seeded fifth.
May 10 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
May 15 -- OCC Challenge at Hilliard Darby