Senior Casey Cempre of the Thomas Worthington High School boys tennis team isn't just returning to the Division I state tournament in singles.

Senior Casey Cempre of the Thomas Worthington High School boys tennis team isn't just returning to the Division I state tournament in singles.

He is doing so as a district champion.

Cempre advanced to the state tournament on Friday, May 27, and Saturday, May 28, at Hilliard Davidson, after finishing first in the district tournament on May 20-21 at Davidson. He defeated Dublin Coffman's Hiromi Nakayama - a three-time state qualifier - 6-2, 6-1 in the final to become the Cardinals' first district champion in singles since 1998.

Cempre will open state against Shaker Heights' David Gabriel, who finished sixth in the Northeast District.

"I'm just happy to be going back the second time. Not a lot of people get that chance," he said. "I guess this one seems more special than the other one because I'm a senior now."

The past three seasons, the district champion in singles has gone on to finish first or second at state. Kevin Metka, a 2010 Worthington Kilbourne graduate, won the singles title last year and Peter Kobelt, a 2009 New Albany graduate, placed second in '08 and first in '09.

Cempre showed off his mental toughness at district, as he trailed Upper Arlington's Brandon Griffin 4-0 in the first set in a quarterfinal before rallying to win 7-6 (7-3), 6-1 to secure a state berth.

In a semifinal, Cempre had split the first two sets with New Albany's Steve Miller, winning the first 6-2 and losing the second 6-4, before Miller retired in the third set because of an injury.

A state quarterfinalist last year, Cempre said he picked up a lot of confidence after defeating Perrysburg's Jeffrey Schorsch 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round of the state tournament a year ago.

"Being in that situation at last year's state tournament, the mecca of high school tennis if you will, helped him," coach Tyler Stephen said. "If you can handle that stage, you can handle just about anything. He didn't hit the big red panic button (when he fell behind against Griffin)."

"(The win over Schorsch) is my fondest memories of the state tournament," Cempre said. "You don't want to go three sets, but if I do, I don't get exhausted and I'm pretty confident now."

The Cardinals advanced five players to district, marking their largest contingent since 2002. However, the doubles team of Joey Wortman and David Edison lost to defending state champions Stu Little and Billy Weldon of Upper Arlington 6-1, 6-0 in the first round, and the doubles team of Mark Evans and Harrison Chang lost to Gahanna's Canyon Teague and Stephen Cheng 6-1, 6-2 in the first round.

Thomas was 11-4 overall before playing New Albany in a Division I OTCA district final on May 24. The winner advances to a state semifinal on Sunday, May 29, at Davidson. The final will be played that same day.

Kilbourne seniors Roger Juang and Sam Lazaroff struggled against the net play of Pickerington Central's Dallas Stang and Chase Thomas during a 6-1, 6-2 loss in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

"They poached a lot and had really good ground strokes," Juang said. "They were very consistent and quick on their feet."

"(The poaching style) took away our timing," Lazaroff said. "I don't think we did a good job adjusting to that. They did all the little things right and we didn't."

The Wolves' other district qualifier, senior Brian Aguirre, lost to New Albany's Sean Yun 6-1, 7-5 in the first round.

"Brian played a great second set," said coach Steve Metzmaier, whose team finished 5-8 overall. "He knew how to beat the guy but had a few lapses when he was up and just let Sean back into it."

The Wolves lose six seniors in Aguirre, Juang, Lazaroff, Jon Wilkinson, Cort Wilson and Andrew Zuk. Expected to return are junior Adith Balaji, sophomore Jack Klein and freshman Justin Stone.

Kilbourne finished fifth (3-4, 40 points) in the OCC-Central Division, behind Upper Arlington (7-0, 82), Thomas Worthington (6-1, 60), Dublin Coffman (5-2, 59) and Davidson (4-3, 41), and ahead of Hilliard Darby (2-5, 27) Westland (1-6, 10) and Central Crossing (0-7, 1).

"The season overall went about as well as we could have expected," Metzmaier said. "We lose six seniors out of the top nine, but I don't know if you want to call (next season) a rebuilding year. You never know what kid is going to take it seriously and take off and become a star. The three guys we have coming back, if they work real hard, could be pretty competitive."