Wellington Roundup: Jaguars boys tennis team falls to Columbus Academy in district final

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Wellington's Evan Manley teamed with Braysen Chawla to win a Division II sectional doubles title May 15 and competed in the district tournament May 20 and 22.

After winning back-to-back OTCA Division II state championships in 2018 and 2019, the Wellington boys tennis team believed it had enough depth and talent to make it three in a row last year before the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

The Jaguars put themselves in position to reach the state tournament again this spring with the return of senior Griffin Biernat at first singles and a group of other players who saw action in 2019, but Columbus Academy proved to be too difficult of an obstacle to overcome. 

After losing 3-2 to the Vikings on April 14 in an MSL-Ohio Division match, the teams met again for the district title May 18 and host Academy won 3-1 to advance to state. 

"I’m proud of the way the guys played,” coach Tommy Haddow said. “From the beginning of the season to this point, they’ve improved a lot and we had a good individual run with our sectionals. Academy is just too good, too deep and they have a lot of options.” 

Wellington, which was represented by three singles players and one doubles team at the Division II district tournament May 20 and 22 at Academy, finished 10-5. 

In the district championship match, Biernat beat Jack Madison 6-2, 6-3 at first singles but junior Sadeq AlAli lost 6-1, 6-2 to Arie Tuckerman at second singles and sophomore Jack Kalnicki fell 6-0, 6-1 to Saagar Arya at third singles. 

In doubles, the team of freshmen Hussein AlAli and Sanjan Shanker lost 6-3, 6-3 to Lucas Huang and Ryan Panley.

Biernat, Shanker and Sadeq AlAli represented the Jaguars in singles and the duo of senior Evan Manley and junior Braysen Chawla competed in doubles at the district tournament, where the top two in singles and doubles advanced to the state tournament May 28 and 29 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason. 

At the sectional May 13 and 15 at Academy, Biernat beat Shankar 6-0, 6-1 for the singles championship and Sadaq AlAli beat Bexley’s Blake Simons 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) to finish third. 

In doubles at the sectional, Manley and Chawla were the third seed but beat Bexley’s Will Meyer and Stefan Schiff 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 for the title.  

Meyer and Schiff beat Kalnicki and sophomore Sriharsha Reddy 6-0, 6-0 in a quarterfinal. 

“(Shanker is) a freshman, and he’s got a bright future for us,” Haddow said. “He’s going to get bigger and stronger, and I think he’ll be more improved next year, even though he’s had a good season this year.  

“(Biernat has been) solid. He’s starting to think a little bit more and work the point a little bit better.” 

Lina Grohovsky was the only senior on the Wellington softball team, which finished 1-18 overall and 0-9 in the MSL-Ohio. Grohovsky hit .391 with six doubles, three triples and 17 RBI.

Most of softball 

team to return 

The softball team will lose only one player to graduation in Lina Grohovsky (P/C/3B), who hit .391 with six doubles, three triples and 17 RBI.

The Jaguars were seeded 18th for the Division IV district tournament and lost to ninth-seeded East Knox 22-0 on May 13 in the second round to finish 1-18 overall. 

Wellington’s victory came April 23 when it beat Tree of Life 16-6, with its closest loss a 17-15 setback to Harvest Prep on April 27. The Jaguars went 0-9 during their first season in the MSL-Ohio Division. 

“We may have been 1-18, but this team made me a better coach and made me smile on a daily basis,” coach Me-Chelle Burkhalter said. “Each player grew tremendously since the beginning of the season. I knew that we were coming in very green (and) then we were also struck with injuries. 

“But this team bought into the concept of making the ‘easy things easy’ by focusing on fundamentals and growth and, above all else, supporting their teammates. You could hear my team chanting and cheering from the moment we hit the field until we cleaned up and headed home.” 

The top returnee will be junior Alexis Burkhalter, the coach’s daughter, who played first base, catcher and pitcher and hit .607 with two home runs, 22 RBI, 22 runs scored and 16 stolen bases. 

Sophomore Maya Avery (SS) finished with 10 RBI, freshman Eve O’Sullivan (C/INF) scored 17 runs and had 12 stolen bases and junior Drew Ober (CF) also was among the team’s top hitters. 

Junior Ayana Cooper-Stevens joined Alexis Burkhalter and Grohovsky as the team's pitchers. 

Others eligible to return include juniors Lexi Robbins (1B/3B), Blais Blackburn (INF) and Rex Harvey-Thurston (C), sophomore Annabelle Krygier (INF) and freshmen Natalie Allen (INF), Simone Crosby-Wallace (utility), Rowyn Hubbard (utility), Flo Oquendo (SS) and Charlotte Rost (C). 

“(Grohovsky’s) unflappable enthusiasm, leadership and versatility will be incredibly missed,” coach Burkhalter said. “However, I’m looking forward to next season. Ninety percent of our team will be returning, our injuries will be healed (and) along with a strong batch of rising freshmen, that sounds like a recipe for success.” 

Track teams battle 

at league meet 

Before opening their respective postseasons with Division III district competition, the boys and girls track and field teams competed in the MSL-Ohio meet May 11 and 14 at Whitehall. 

The girls scored 26.33 points to place seventh of eight teams behind champion Buckeye Valley (165.33) and the boys scored 6 points to finish last of seven teams behind champion Grandview (176). 

Sophomore Renee Hutchins led the girls team with a third-place finish in the shot put (29 feet, 10 inches), while sophomore Avery Thielman was fifth in the high jump (4-8), sophomore Dylan Ehlers was fifth in the 100-meter hurdles (18.0) and sixth in the shot put (28-10 1/4) and junior Abigail Burkhardt finished sixth in the 100 (13.62) for the girls team. 

For the boys squad, the 400 relay of senior Kethan Mokadam, junior Jackson Jacobs and sophomores Cameron Deguchi and A.J. Taylor was fifth (47.9). 

There was only one district meet for boys, which concluded May 22 at Granville. The top four in each event advanced to the regional May 26 and 28 at Chillicothe Southeastern. The top four in each regional event will advance to the state meet June 4 and 5 at Westerville North. 

The girls team competed in the district 2 meet at Granville. 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek 

SOFTBALL 

•Record: 1-18 overall  

•MSL-Ohio standings: Buckeye Valley (10-0), Bexley and Worthington Christian (both 7-3), Grandview (3-6), Whitehall (1-7), Wellington (0-9) 

•Senior lost: Lina Grohovsky 

•Key returnees: Blais Blackburn, Alexis Burkhalter, Ayana Cooper-Stevens, Rex Harvey-Thurston, Drew Ober, Eve O’Sullivan and Lexi Robbins 

•Postseason: Lost to East Knox 22-0 in second round of Division IV district tournament