With curly, shoulder-length hair kept on top of his head by a headband and sporting glasses with round frames, Canal Winchester High School boys tennis player Corey Berner admits he is something of a free spirit who tries to have fun at whatever he's doing.
That includes tennis, which Berner took up on a whim during his junior season thanks to some prodding from a neighbor, Indians coach Doug Welsh. Previously, Berner played high school and club soccer.
"I figured I'd give this a try," Berner said. "It's really calm. It's not super high pressure. You can go out there, play and have fun with your friends. Usually, I am out there lifting everybody's spirits, saying, 'Let's go, guys,' and helping everybody enjoy themselves."
As far as Welsh is concerned, that is only part of the role Berner and the team's only other senior, first singles player Connor Clark, play for an Indians team that will seek postseason success in a Division I sectional tournament Thursday, May 9, and Saturday, May 11, at Pickerington Central.
"Corey loves to experience so many things," Welsh said. "He loves the competition, but he finds fun in it, too. He's very unflappable. If things aren't going well, you wouldn't know it. He only picked up a racket last year and he has improved, but he is somebody who will help us any way he can. Coaches always love guys like that. He's been such a positive person, not only with his play, but his dynamic with the rest of the guys.
"He's a doubles player, mainly, but he attacks the net really well. He's about 6-(foot-)4 and he plays the net well. He closes on every ball as hard as he can. He always has a chance to make a (return) shot."
Clark, who has played first singles for his entire high school career, prides himself on many of the same attributes.
"It's been fun to come back and see myself doing better," Clark said. "My net game is a lot more concrete than it was. I used to be very scared about moving to the net, but now I feel better about my shots there. I practiced a lot in the offseason at Scarborough East Tennis Club and that's probably the big key.
"I've been working hard to just get better. Even if I've been best on the team for all these years, I just focus on my own self-improvement."
Berner and Clark both plan to make tennis secondary in college, although neither ruled out playing on an intramural basis or devoting more time to the sport after graduation. Berner plans to attend Louisiana State and Clark will attend Ohio University.
Canal Winchester was 5-8 before finishing the regular season May 7 against Lancaster.
At sectional, the top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament May 16 and 18 at Reynoldsburg.
Canal Winchester's postseason lineup will look like its usual regular-season lineup, as Clark, Jeremy Irby and Caden Sweeney will play singles and doubles teams will consist of Drew Adams and Zane Diehl and Berner and Jake Chapman.
The Indians have not won a sectional match since 2015, and the program has never had a district qualifier.
"I don't know that we'll win (any titles) at sectionals, but we'd at least like to win a few matches there because last year that didn't happen," Berner said. "I feel like we have a better chance this year and we're pretty confident."
Track teams ready for league meet
The track and field teams will try to overtake Big Walnut for first place and two individuals will try to repeat as league champions during the OCC-Capital Division meet Thursday, May 9, and Saturday, May 11, at Groveport.
Boys sprinter Korbin Martino is seeking his second consecutive title in the 400 meters. He also was on the winning 400 and 1,600 relays last year and placed second in the high jump as the Indians scored 120 points and finished second behind the Golden Eagles (164) and ahead of Newark (76), New Albany (75), Groveport (60) and Franklin Heights (26).
In last week's area honor roll, Martino ranked second in the 400 (48.85 seconds) and seventh in the 200 (22.16). He also set a program record in the 800 (1:56.27) during an April 30 home tri-meet against Pickerington North and Teays Valley.
The 800 relay (1:27.49) and 1,600 relay (3:24.59) were ranked first in the area and first and fifth, respectively, in the state by Athletic.net and the 400 relay was ranked third (42.97) in the area and state.
Ariana Coleman is the girls team's only returning individual league champion from last year, when Canal Winchester scored 126 points to finish behind Big Walnut (137) and ahead of New Albany (113), Groveport (81), Newark (50) and Franklin Heights (16).
Coleman won both the 200 and long jump, setting a program record in the latter event by jumping 18 feet, 1/4 inch, and the 400 relay also placed first.
Coleman's top distance this season, 17-5, was third-best in the area last week.
The Indians then will participate in the Division I, district 2 meet at Hilliard Darby. Field events will take place Tuesday, May 14, followed by preliminaries for the running events Wednesday, May 15, and running finals May 18.
The top four finishers in each event advance to regional May 22 and 24 at Pickerington North.
Baseball team hopes for late surge
In each of the past two seasons, the baseball team entered the Division I district tournament well above .500, but has only one postseason win in that time to show for it.
Coach Tyler Kuhn hopes this year will be different, despite the Indians being 10-10 overall before playing Groveport on May 7. A 4-1 win over Franklin Heights on May 6 was the Indians' fourth victory in a row.
"The year hasn't gone as planned, but we feel like we'll be battle-tested going into the tournament," Kuhn said. "At the end of the day the past couple years, maybe we weren't as tested despite our record. We've seen a lot of No. 1 pitchers on a lot of good teams, like New Albany and Lancaster and the teams we played in Kentucky (during a trip to Louisville in late March). Hopefully that means we'll be prepared for whoever we go up against and be a team that's competitive and can beat some strong teams."
Canal Winchester was 16-8 entering the tournament last year and 18-5 two years ago.
New Albany and Lancaster were the top two teams, respectively, in last week's area coaches poll.
The Indians won their first three league games last week and were 8-4 in the OCC-Capital before playing Groveport. Canal Winchester defeated Newark 6-0 on April 29 and 8-4 the next day and Big Walnut 12-2 in six innings on May 1 and are scheduled to finish league play Friday, May 10, at home against Newark.
The Indians are seeded 21st in the 48-team Division I district tournament and will play host to 32nd-seeded Reynoldsburg in a first-round game Monday, May 13.
The winner visits 12th-seeded Dublin Scioto in the second round Wednesday, May 15, with that winner advancing to a district semifinal May 20.
Postseason begins for softball team
Seeded 21st in the 45-team Division I district tournament, the softball team visited 12th-seeded Grove City for a second-round game May 8.
The winner will play third-seeded Delaware or 33rd-seeded Walnut Ridge in a district semifinal Monday, May 13, at a neutral site. The winner advances to a district final May 17 or 18 at Pickerington Central.
Canal Winchester, which was 12-9 overall before playing Grove City, won three of its four games last week, including two of three to finish the OCC-Capital schedule.
The Indians defeated New Albany 13-3 in five innings April 29 and Franklin Heights 12-1 in six innings the next day before falling to Newark 8-5 on May 1 to finish 4-6 in the league.