Boys Tennis: Pickerington North Panthers feature young but promising roster

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Pickerington North Panthers

While the Pickerington North boys tennis team returns one player who came up one win short of the Division I state tournament as a freshman, coach Brian Hoff doesn’t have the roster he envisioned entering the season.

Still, Hoff hopes that season-ending injuries to two players will be overcome by a lineup he considers particularly deep.

Junior Cole Alcala, the Panthers’ only district qualifier in 2019, is back to lead the lineup. He and sophomore Pavan Uppu will play in the top two singles spots, and senior Theo Miller and junior Kevin Wang also are back from the 2019 team that went 9-9 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division.

Senior Ben Starrett and sophomore A.J. Raber were injured during the winter and will miss the season.

“Other guys (besides Alcala and Uppu) will be playing both singles and doubles until we find the right fit with the doubles teams. We have good depth — any of the other six or seven players could be the best of the group depending on the day,” said Hoff, who is in his 17th season. “We have a very young roster. Only (Alcala, Miller and Wang) have played a full season of high school tennis. Six of our nine varsity guys are freshmen and sophomores. The last time they played school tennis was in junior high. They will have to adjust to playing varsity-level competition.”

Also competing for varsity time are sophomores Cooper Stotridge, Mitch Stotridge, Lashond Thambyrajah and Riley Wilson and freshman Oliver Eskander.

“It’s a very large and talented sophomore class that has the potential to accomplish a lot of the next three years if they keep improving and working hard,” Hoff said. “We expect to compete for a league title like we do every season. It will be a challenge with one of the best teams in the state (New Albany) in our league, but I believe our guys are up for the opportunity.”

INSIDE THE PANTHERS

Coach: Brian Hoff, 17th season

Next match: April 15 at St. Charles

Key athletes: Cole Alcala, Theo Miller, Cooper Stotridge, Pavan Uppu and Kevin Wang

‘Solid’ singles lineup

to pace Tigers

Senior Brady Phelps returns for his second consecutive season at first singles to lead Central, which has a variety of experience in its lineup with two seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and a freshman.

Senior Jack Philabaum is Central’s only other returnee from 2019, when the Tigers went 14-6.

“We have some really solid singles players. To have three really strong guys in those positions certainly helps the outlook,” 17th-year coach Kelli Rings said. “Things on the doubles courts are falling into place. Those guys are improving daily in their confidence and getting to know each other. We’re still moving things around a little bit and trying to cut back on errors. When that all comes together, good things can happen.”

Sophomore Spencer Phelps, Brady’s brother, and freshman Quinn Jones started the season at second and third singles, respectively. While neither had defeated Brady Phelps in early challenge matches, Rings said their contrasting styles are effective in different ways.

“Brady is just patient and knows how to work a point and wear the opponent down. He orchestrates points well,” Rings said. “Spencer and Quinn are both a little more explosive. They come on with a little more offense. Brady is capable of that but he’s good at making the opponent make a mistake.”

There is more movement in doubles. While Philabaum teamed with junior Caden Nixt at first doubles to begin the year, junior Ricky Caceres-Gamero and sophomores Jacob Bennett and Cole Dashner rotated at second doubles.

INSIDE THE TIGERS

Coach: Kelli Rings, 17th season

Next match: April 15 vs. Central Crossing

Key athletes: Quinn Jones, Caden Nixt, Brady Phelps, Spencer Phelps and Jack Philabaum

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave