By Dan Gilles
It was a great weekend for the four area tennis programs competing at last weekend’s Lorain County Athletic Administrators Association Boys Tennis Tournament.
Avon Lake, despite being without the services of its top three singles players and a starting doubles player, won its fourth team championship in the last five years with two individual champions and two runners-up, en route to 35 points.
Avon, for the second-straight year, was just one point shy of winning its first LCAAA Tournament title. The Eagles, also with two individual champions and two runners-up, finished with 34 points to take second for the second-straight year.
Lake Ridge, the defending team champions, used one individual champ and one runner-up to take third with 31 points.
And North Ridgeville, which has traditionally not fared well at the LCAAA Tournament, had two third-place finishers en route to 16 points, which was good enough for fifth place in the nine-team event.
With seniors James Darkow and Tim Villari competing at a track meet and juniors Austin Rice and Matt Duskey taking the ACT test, Avon Lake coach Adam Slabodnick shuffled his lineup around and moved a couple of JV players up to main roster for the biggest regular season tournament of the season.
Whatever he did, it worked like a charm last Friday and Saturday at Avon Lake High School.
The Shoremen swept the doubles championships with sophomores Matt Sladek and Oliver Wilhelm (first doubles) and sophomore James Moore and freshman Austin Goetz (second doubles), and took second at both second (sophomore Robert Hoffman) and third singles (junior Ryan Stonecipher).
“My guys played great this weekend,” Slabodnick said. “This reminds me of my first year coaching, where we had a young team that didn’t win any championships, but we reached the finals in all five categories. We told the guys, ‘We might be missing five of our top 10 guys, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a chance.
“’The only chance we have is if we come out this weekend and we do our best as a team in every single match, especially in the first round. Once you reach the semifinals, anything can go from there.’ They all did it. They all made the finals except (first singles) Parker MacDonald, but he stepped up big time in his own right to finish in the top four. We wouldn’t have accomplished what we did today if each person didn’t do what they did over these last two days, and I’m so proud of them.”
Slabodnick singled out a few matches from Friday that may have led to the one-point championship, including Hoffman’s 7-6 (7-6), 3-6, 6-3 quarterfinal win over Avon’s Oliver Burger.
“That really was the major point difference between Avon and us,” he said. “Oliver Burger should not have finished fifth in this tournament because he’s a fantastic player. But he caught Robert on a day where he was playing his absolute best tennis.
“Robert’s a kid that is more suited for third singles, but we asked him to move up this weekend and he’s always done what’s best for the team. For him to reach the finals and give (Lake Ridge’s) Roger Peckham a great match in the finals was outstanding.”
MacDonald, who moved up to first singles, finished fourth behind two-time champion Nico Mostardi of Avon, three-time district qualifier and runner-up Caleb Mayer of Lake Ridge, and former LCAAA runner-up Cory Habecker of Amherst.
Mostardi didn’t drop a single game in his three tournament wins, capped by a 6-0, 6-0 win over Mayer in the finals.
“It’s a lot better conditions this year, and that helped,” Mostardi said. “It was snowing at last year’s tournament. There was no wind and no distractions. I was just able to play my normal game.
“Practice has been the key. I practice every day with my dad (Rich) and other coaches at North Ridge Tennis and Golf, where he works. I hit all the time and play in as many matches as I could, and I feel confident in what I can do this year.”
Hoffman lost to Peckham, 6-3, 6-4, which made Peckham a three-time LCAAA singles champion and a repeat champion at second singles.
“Today I didn’t think I was playing that well,” Peckham said. “My elbow was hurting a bit, but I thought I could have played better. There weren’t any surprises here. Even though I struggled a bit, I got the job done.
“It feels pretty good to become a three-time champion here. I wish I would have won it my sophomore year so I could have been a four-time champ, but whatever.”
One of the few entities that didn’t have to get reshuffled for Avon Lake was the first doubles team of Sladek and Wilhelm. Competing in their first LCAAA Tournament, the duo defeated Avon’s Navi Baskar and Austin Williams, 6-0, 6-3, in the final.
“Avon put up a good fight against us, but we’ve won every match so far and we were able to seal the deal,” Wilhelm said. “Winning this shows Avon Lake has a great reputation and sheds a good light on how we are as tennis players.”
Added Sladek: “All the teams here did a really solid job here. I thought we’d have a good shot, but Avon put up a really good fight. We hit a little bit during the offseason and we played together on the varsity ‘B’ team last year, and that has helped us.”
Goetz moved up from JV to replace Duskey at second doubles. With only a handful of practices to work on chemistry, Goetz and Moore went 3-0 at the tournament. They defeated Avon’s William Alexander and Spencer Yates in the finals, 6-4, 6-1, to essentially clinch the team title for the Shoremen.
“It took a lot of hard work,” Goetz said. “I couldn’t have done it without my friend James and my coaches and family. Our opponents were really good and all of us played our best to get where we are.”
Added Moore: “I put in a lot of work over the offseason, which helped a lot. That all leads to this. We’ve played together at Paramount, but we didn’t do much before the tournament started. We just fell into a rhythm.”
Avon junior Chance Nicklaus ended the tournament with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win over Stonecipher to claim the third singles championship, making the final margin as close as it was.
“It was an exciting three-setter, and I was happy I could come out with the win,” Nicklaus said. “We weren’t even projected to be even close to winning, so to come within one point of winning it is really good. I’m proud of our team.”
Stonecipher, a JV call-up, also had a big quarterfinal win – a 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-5 victory over Lake Ridge’s Chris Miller that had to resume Saturday morning on the count of darkness. He rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the second set to tie it at 5-5 when darkness descended Friday night.
“Ryan Stonecipher is normally a third singles JV player, and he stepped up big time,” Slabodnick said. “He was down 4-1 and he came over on the changeover and said, ‘I got this, Coach.’ Our team rallied around him and he fed off it and it was amazing. If we didn’t have that win at third singles, knocking Lake Ridge down to the back draw, it could have been a different tournament.”
Both doubles teams for the Royals – juniors Henry Lin and Jesse Krislov (first) and senior Varun Kumar and Quinn Sekrata (second) – finished third. Lin and Krislov defeated Elyria’s Kyle McNickle and Zach Thompson, 8-3, while Kumar and Sekrata defeated Vermilion’s Stasio Gibbons and Bryan Olejko, 8-6.
“A couple of matches didn’t go our way, and had they gone how we thought they would, it would have been a different story,” Lake Ridge coach Rich Robbins said. “To finish third just a few points back isn’t too bad. But our third singles (Miller) losing by a few points to Avon Lake in a three-setter really hurt.
“We felt he would finish in the top four and that loss meant he was playing for fifth-place points. An Oberlin forfeit at third singles opened the door for Avon, because I think that girl (Reilly McInerney) would have beaten (Nicklaus), or at least kept it close. A couple of things just fell in line for Avon Lake and Avon and not for us.”
North Ridgeville, which has usually finished last or second-to-last at the LCAAA, used third-place finishes by sophomore Brian Priore (second singles) and junior Stephen Bickford (third singles) to finish in the top five for the first time in many years.
Priore defeated Vermilion’s Drew Dawson, 8-2, while Bickford beat McInerney by forfeit in their respective third-place matches. It’s the highest individual finishes for the Rangers at the LCAAA in recent memory.