Upper Arlington Roundup: Girls tennis team playing with intensity
As if playing for a return to the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I state tournament isn't enough motivation for the Upper Arlington girls team, the Golden Bears have approached their early season matches with extra fervor and appreciation.
Temporarily faced with having their season halted this week when the school district went to virtual learning because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Bears' schedule will continue as planned for the foreseeable future in an increasingly competitive OCC-Central Division and Central District.
"It's exciting. Expectations are high but right now, like I've told them, I always want them to play like it's their last match because it could be," said coach Shaun Stamps, who's in his 17th season. "This is truly a case of taking everything match by match. I think they appreciate everything more. At one point, all (UA) sports were going to stop.
"They're intense. They want to go back to the (state tournament). Last year, they weren't sure. We pulled off some great wins to get there."
The UA district originally had decided July 31 that all teams had to stop competition and practices during virtual learning, which is expected to last until at least Sept. 18. But it amended that policy a week later to allow non-contact sports -- cross country, golf, tennis and volleyball -- to compete and all others to practice.
The Bears return six players from last year's team that went 20-2 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Central, and defeated Toledo Notre Dame Academy 3-1 in the third-place match at state.
Senior Ella Hazelbaker began the season at first singles after going 1-1 in doubles in last year's Division I state tournament with 2020 graduate Wendy Shi. Junior Megan Basil and senior Emma Wang played second and third singles, respectively, in a season-opening 5-0 win at Dayton Chaminade Julienne on Aug. 12.
"Now that we know what we're capable of, this year could be amazing," Hazelbaker said. "I've been working a lot on my footwork and getting to every ball, running down every ball."
Also back are senior Noah Mizer and sophomores Ellis Mizer and Ava Richard.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Anna Leach and Olivia Weston and freshman Isabelle Roth.
Wang expects to switch between third singles and doubles.
"Part of it is just figuring out the matchup and who fits best where and what's best for the team," Wang said. "I don't mind going back and forth."
Noah Mizer is in her third year at first doubles. She teamed with Richard against Chaminade Julienne, and Ellis Mizer and Roth played second doubles.
"Our thing will be trying to solidify our doubles lineup," Stamps said. "My thought process is getting to the point where I'm comfortable no matter where I put someone."
UA begins pursuit of its 30th league championship in 31 years Tuesday, Aug. 25, at Hilliard Bradley. The league also added Olentangy Liberty and Olentangy Orange, which evenly split the past four OCC-Buckeye titles, while keeping Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Davidson.
"Last year proved that anything can happen," Noah Mizer said. "We definitely exceeded expectations. We went into the season unranked and ended up third in the state. The numbers don't necessarily predict anything."
At a glance
*Coach: Shaun Stamps, 17th season
*Top players: Megan Basil, Ella Hazelbaker, Ellis Mizer, Noah Mizer and Ava Richard
*Key loss: Wendy Shi
*Last season: 20-2 overall
*2019 OCC-Central standings: Upper Arlington (5-0), Dublin Coffman (4-1), Marysville (3-2), Hilliard Davidson (2-3), Central Crossing (1-4), Westland (0-5)