Girls Tennis: Ella Franz primed to lead improving Olentangy Berlin

SCOTT HENNEN
shennen@thisweeknews.com
Junior first-singles player Ella Franz, who was the OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year last season, returns to lead the Berlin girls tennis team under second-year coach Richard Hunt.

Ella Franz was close to reaching the state tournament in her first two seasons with the Olentangy Berlin girls tennis team. Now, the junior wants to take the next step.

The left-hander fell one win short of state as a freshman, losing to Columbus Academy's Sydni Ratliff 6-0, 6-0 in the Division II district singles final.

After winning a Division I sectional championship last season, Franz lost to Olentangy's Nour Khayat 7-5, 6-1 in the first round at district.

"I think I'm even more motivated now," said Franz, who was the OCC-Cardinal Division Player of the Year last fall. "I really want (to qualify for state), and I have been training really hard for it. I have tried to hit the gym and work out every day. I try to play three to four hours every day. I'm really trying to get the reps in and improve every shot that I can."

For the third consecutive season, Franz will play first singles for the Bears. Senior Janna Harris will play second singles and freshman Claire Emanuel is at third singles.

"At the top we have improved because Ella and Janna have continued to get better," said second-year coach Richard Hunt, whose team finished 13-8 overall last season. "Ella has worked hard, and she loves the sport. She worked a lot to improve her serve and her volleys have always been strong. I feel she has improved in several aspects of the game."

Seniors Emma Reger and Sydney Webb are at first doubles. Junior Ragga Chakilam and freshman Siri Ponna are playing second doubles.

"Ragga played for us as a freshman and then missed last year with a knee injury," Hunt said. "She has done a very good job for us early on and we expect her to keep getting better."

Also expected to see action are senior Juniya Franks and sophomore Tapie Smith.

The Bears finished second (6-1) in the OCC-Cardinal last fall behind Dublin Jerome (7-0). They begin league play Tuesday, Aug. 25, at Olentangy.

Berlin opened Aug. 12 with a 3-2 win over Worthington Christian. Franz and Emanuel won in singles, and Reger and Webb in doubles.

Nickel to lead deep Braves

Sophomore Sydney Nickel started the season at first singles for Olentangy, whose lineup was altered when Division I state qualifier Nour Khayat moved to California.

Seniors Archita Sriram and Khushi Agarwal, junior Sonia Chirravuri and sophomore Mimi Kekalainen also return for the Braves, who opened Aug. 8 by winning the Delaware Invitational and were 0-1 in dual matches before playing Pickerington North on Aug. 18.

"It's always difficult when a top player graduates or moves because that puts pressure on the players below her to all move up a spot," 10th-year coach Jeff Luxenburger said. "I'm excited for Sydney to step up into (first singles), even though she probably wasn't expecting it just a couple of months ago.

"She's going to have so many tough matches due to our challenging schedule, but she's going to gain so much this season in experience."

Khayat, a junior, finished fourth at district last year and lost her only match at state.

Sriram, Chirravuri and junior Shriya Palusa likely will alternate at singles, with doubles players including Agarwal, senior Isha Sawhney, sophomores Breanna Ball, Ava Estep and Kekalainen and freshman Pranjal Agochiya.

"We're lucky to have senior leadership in our varsity squad this year," Luxenburger said. "They are doing a fantastic job leading the younger girls on the court. I can already tell they're taking this season very seriously and want to do all they can to help our team succeed."

Olentangy lost 5-0 to visiting Wellington in its first dual match of the season Aug. 12.

The Braves, who went 10-7 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Buckeye last year to finish second behind Orange (5-0), begin OCC-Cardinal play Tuesday, Aug. 25, at home against Berlin.

"Dublin Jerome will be the Goliath of the division as they have been a tennis powerhouse for years," Luxenburger said. "We always put up a good fight against those elite teams, though, and I don't think this year will be any different with the tremendous mentality our team has."

--Dave Purpura

Pioneers seeking another OCC title

Coach Susan Storrer has a new challenge in her fifth season leading Orange.

The Pioneers are trying to replace three four-year starters, including 2020 graduates Kortney Reed and Erin Storrer, who teamed to finish fourth in doubles in last season's Division I state tournament.

Also, coach Storrer must pull the appropriate strings in order for the program to win its third consecutive league title. The Pioneers are now in the OCC-Central after winning the OCC-Buckeye championship the past two seasons.

"We have more of a mixture of age groups," said coach Storrer, whose team finished 14-4 overall last season. "These girls are different ages and they have been more inclusive of the new girls. I'm excited and proud of them for that."

Senior Caroline Sproule and juniors Karol Korotkin and Tyler Reed will begin by playing on the three singles courts, respectively.

Freshman Ellie Logan holds one spot in doubles, but coach Storrer is still seeking the right combinations.

"I'm not sure what three other girls will be playing doubles," she said. "Right now, we're looking at pairings and see what works best."

Senior Katie Dicken, sophomore Aanya Tummalapalli and freshmen Arefa Kapasi are among the players in position to reach the lineup.

"We could move people around, like we always do," coach Storrer said. "I could see Tyler and Ellie playing some doubles together. We'll have to see how things work out."

The Pioneers opened Aug. 18 against Cleveland St. Joseph Academy. They begin OCC-Central play Tuesday, Aug. 25, at home against Hilliard Davidson.

--Scott Hennen

Patriots building around Schoenly

The depth Liberty has in its program is something fifth-year coach Will Thieman expects to be on display this fall.

The Patriots are led by senior Dani Schoenly, an Ohio State commit who teamed with senior Maddie Atway to win Division I state doubles titles in 2017 and 2018 before having her 2019 season end with a second-round loss in singles at state.

Atway, who also has committed to Ohio State, has elected not to compete this fall and plans to concentrate on training for college, according to Thieman.

"It's been good and pretty normal because tennis is so socially distanced," Thieman said. "There are definitely a few changes, but you can play tennis standing 25 feet away from each other.

"Dani's gotten so much better that I think she can make a run at states this year. She's that talented. There's Dani and there's a few other girls that are good on our team, so we've got to figure out what's best for the rest of the lineup."

Liberty opened Aug. 11 by beating Big Walnut 4-1 and began OCC-Central action Aug. 19 at home against Upper Arlington.

The Patriots finished 10-8 overall and went 3-2 to place third in the OCC-Buckeye last year. They're now in the OCC-Central with Orange, UA, Dublin Coffman, Davidson and Hilliard Bradley.

"We probably have by far the best conference in the OCC," Thieman said. "It's good to play against good teams."

The other returnees are seniors Emma Clark and Cathy Zhu, junior Morgan Porter and sophomores Charvi Thumati and Kylie Wilson.

Junior Megan Haddow, sophomore Disha Patel and freshman Athena Mattis are others who should see varsity time.

"Everybody has talent and everybody seems to work hard and is very eager to learn," Thieman said. "I'm pretty excited about the season. We'll be deep this year and I think we'll have a very good team."

--Jarrod Ulrey

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At a glance

BERLIN

*Coach: Richard Hunt, second season

*Top players: Claire Emanuel, Ella Franz, Janna Harris, Emma Reger and Sydney Webb

*Key losses: Vidya Puttagunta, Maddie Reger and Maggie Torlone

*Last season: 13-8 overall

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Dublin Jerome (7-0), Berlin (6-1), Dublin Scioto (5-2), Hilliard Bradley (4-3), Delaware (3-4), Hilliard Darby (2-5), Thomas Worthington (1-6), Worthington Kilbourne (0-7)

LIBERTY

*Coach: Will Thieman, fifth season

*Top players: Emma Clark, Morgan Porter, Dani Schoenly, Charvi Thumati, Kylie Wilson and Cathy Zhu

*Key losses: Maddie Atway and Naga Pokala

*Last season: 10-8 overall

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (5-0), Olentangy (4-1), Liberty (3-2), Westerville Central (2-3), Westerville North (1-4), Westerville South (0-5)

OLENTANGY

*Coach: Jeff Luxenburger, 10th season

*Top players: Khushi Agarwal, Sonia Chirravuri, Mimi Kekalainen, Sydney Nickel and Archita Sriram

*Key losses: Priyanka Agochiya and Nour Khayat

*Last season: 10-7 overall

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (5-0), Olentangy (4-1), Liberty (3-2), Central (2-3), North (1-4), South (0-5)

ORANGE

*Coach: Susan Storrer, fifth season

*Top players: Karol Korotkin, Tyler Reed and Caroline Sproule

*Key losses: Teresa Hawk, Hannah Logan, Kortney Reed, Erin Storrer and Gabi Valiulis

*Last season: 14-4 overall

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (5-0), Olentangy (4-1), Liberty (3-2), Central (2-3), North (1-4), South (0-5)