Tennis was Mitchell Thai's primary focus for the first 18 years of his life.

However, that changed once the 2017 Hilliard Bradley High School graduate moved on to play for the Denison University men's team. The sport now serves as an outlet for the stress that comes from working toward dental school.

Thai completed his sophomore season with the Big Red this spring. But instead of spending his summer on a tennis court, he is studying for the Dental Admission Test, which he is scheduled to take July 26.

"I worked hard at tennis, but at this point, tennis doesn't define me," Thai said. "Now that I'm in college, my priorities have shifted. One of them had to give.

"My classes are a steppingstone for the rest of my life. Moving forward, I had to put in the extra time on those."

Not only have Thai's priorities shifted, but so has his tennis game. He played singles at Bradley as well as in USTA Junior events and qualified for the state tournament each of his final three seasons with the Jaguars.

At Denison, he has played both singles and doubles.

"Before I (got to) college, a lot of my game focused on singles," said Thai, who placed third in singles in the Division I state tournament as a senior. "When I started playing doubles, I was very much playing like I was the only person on the court. But you have to work with your partner and communicate with him to be effective in doubles play."

As a freshman at Denison, Thai went 16-9 in singles and 17-10 in doubles with 2018 graduate Jamie McDonald and made second-team All-North Coast Athletic Conference in both. This spring, he went 13-11 in singles and 19-11 in doubles, including 10-5 with freshman Tim Cianciola, and was first-team All-NCAC in doubles and honorable mention all-conference in singles.

"Mitchell has really worked on his doubles play," Denison coach Peter Burling said. "He's not normally someone who ventures to the net because he's more of a baseline player. We worked on his serve and volley. We also told him he only had to cover 13 feet and he has done well with that.

"His prowess at the net is great, and he knows exactly when to approach. He can cut the ball off instead of letting it go to his partner. He senses when (he should move) and when he should not move."

Thai said he knew Cianciola, who is from Canfield, from competing in USTA Junior events and reached out to him last summer.

"I knew him a little before he came here and our chemistry kicked off right away," Thai said. "I feel our games correspond really well. He's a very strong singles player and he can set me up at the net where I can finish volleys. Our game works out best when I'm at the net.

"The main difference (between singles and doubles) for me is that (doubles) gives me a chance to interact with my partner and I can bounce ideas off him. If you're not playing well, you have a partner to bring you back up. I feel like meshing well with your doubles partner is something that happens over time. We're friends on and off the court, and we're able to coordinate our games on the court."

Thai will attend Denison one more year before entering dental school at Case Western.

"It's a joint program between Denison and Case," Thai said. "It takes up a lot of my time like tennis did in high school.

"It was a transition when I got (to Denison) because high school tennis was pretty much an individual sport for me, but we have a team environment here. It was an adjustment, but I really enjoy it. I chose Denison knowing that it was Division III and I would be able to balance school and tennis. It's given me the chance to have both while I still can."

shennen@thisweeknews.com

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