By Ryan Kaczmarski
Several Westshore boys high school varsity tennis teams are coming off conference championships in 2011, including WESTLAKE, which had an overall record of 18-2 (7-0 in the Southwestern Conference) and is looking for its fourth-straight SWC title.
The Demons have No. 1 singles player and co-captain Colton Buffington, who was district champion in 2011 and qualified for the state finals in each of the last three years, returning for his senior season. Expectations for the University of Louisville recruit are very high, as Buffington seeks a state title to add to his other achievements.
Westlake’s other key returning letter winners are J.T. Rapaport (co-captain), Stephen Fleischer (co-captain), Kevin Wang and Kent Dinchman.
Junior Aakash Shah, sophomore Krish Shah, and freshmen Cal Craven and Connor Michelich round out the rest of the Demons roster.
“Colton Buffington will once again be a nature force to reckoned with, in the state tournament,” said Demons head coach Jeff Mannies. “Both Connor Michelich and Krish Shah are new to the team, and will bring tournament experience, drive and passion to the team.
“The team depth, strength and combined tournament experience will be the ultimate key to our success this season,” he added. “We will be shooting for another SWC team championship, getting Colton to the state finals and qualify many to districts or further. With such a young team, we will have to exercise patience, conditioning and strength training.”
The biggest matches on the Demons’ schedule this year are against St. John (Toledo), St. Ignatius, Columbus Academy and New Albany High School.
The NORTH OLMSTED squad is coming off a record of 3-13 (2-5 in the SWC) in 2011. Last year’s team featured seven members who were playing varsity for the first time.
“Last year was a difficult year,” said Eagles head coach Matt Demain. “We lost many matches, but I was proud of how well my players handled themselves.”
The top four returning players for North Olmsted are juniors Aravind Kalluri and Davesh Chauhan, sophomore David Brunner and senior Shubhum Mangla. The other returning letter winners are junior Rares “George” Botosneanu and senior Mayank Parikh. Other contributors may be freshman Ernst Olesky and junior Tim Donahue.
Mangla and Parikh will serve as the Eagles’ co-captains this season.
“First of all, these are two great students who are enjoyable to coach,” Demain said. “I am so glad to have them as captains. Over the winter, they organized a weekly tennis drill with all the other players.
“We have about 20 players in the program this year, and I believe it is directly related to their leadership,” he added. “They will be missed next season.”
Demain sees the matches against Olmsted Falls and Amherst as the biggest of the season.
“These two schools finished just ahead of us last year (in the SWC), and we are looking forward to the challenge of playing them this year,” he said.
“Our biggest strength this year will be the experience we have from last year,” Demain said. “I think many of the players learned what it takes to win at the high school level. They learned that they must stay focused for the entire match and not worry about elements (the weather) that they are unable to control.
“Our biggest weakness is, we have a lack of tournament match experience, outside of the high school tennis season, that some of the players at the other SWC schools have.”
The Eagles’ goal for the season is to finish in the top four in the conference.
OLMSTED FALLS will have only two returning members of last year’s team, which finished with an overall record of 7-5 (5-2 in the SWC, third place), in Taylor Weber and Sohan Vartak.
Filling in the remainder of the Bulldogs’ roster are seniors Jacob Hodge and Devin Sharp and sophomores Joe Gibson and Paul Katz, along with some of the members of the girls team (because they were running short on players).
“I think we’ll surprise a lot of people,” said Bulldogs head coach Laura Graham. “We graduated most of our team last year, but this team is working hard and we have some athletes that are good at covering the court.
“We do not have one standout (player),” she added. “On any day, it seems, someone beats someone that beat them the day before – but I like this – it’s keeping everyone very competitive, and that always makes a stronger team.”
The BAY tennis squad will only return two of the seven top players from last year’s West Shore Conference co-championship team.
The two key returning letter winners are the defending WSC doubles championship duo of Zach Messina and Scott Guether (captain).
“Zach Messina and Scott Guether will anchor a young squad,” said Rockets head coach Dave Peters. “Scott is my lone senior. He is very versatile … solid in single and doubles.”
Newcomers to the team are juniors Tyler Enders, Elliot Snyder, Dan Huntley and Jack Creech; sophomore Brandon Myers; and freshman Jack Reiss.
Peters sees the matches against Avon and Rocky River as being most important to win, to repeat as conference champions. He also sees the tradition of Rockets tennis as a strength for his squad members, despite their youth and inexperience.
ROCKY RIVER had the other half of the WSC championship last year, going a perfect 6-0 in the conference. The Pirates are returning only three of the top players from 2011 in Matthew Siwkiewicz, Mike Pavlik and Brian Thorn.
They are an upperclassmen-laden squad, with 11 seniors on the team, including Randy Bierman, Pat Corcoran, Joey Kinsley, Jonathan Lihani (captain), Dan O’Callaghan, Damian O’Malley, Pavlik, Siwkiewicz (captain), Tim Smith, and Thorn and Nathan VanRooy. Henry Grierson, also a captain, is the only underclassman with that title.
“It’s too soon to tell,” Pirates head coach Jeff Sinnema said, when asked about his team’s strengths. “We are replacing too many positions. We have an overall lack of playing experience amongst all varsity positions.”
Sinnema just wants his squad to have a winning record and repeat in the WSC.
FAIRVIEW High School has moved from the WSC, where the boys tennis team went 5-2 last season, to the Patriot Athletic Conference. However, the team is opting not to play in the PAC and will play an independent schedule this year.
“Although we are independent, we are still looking forward to playing our friendly rivals of Bay, Rocky River, Midview, Avon and Vermilion,” said Warriors head coach Eric Korey. “We are also looking forward to playing Oberlin. We have always enjoyed playing Oberlin every year, but now both schools are in the PAC, so it will be the only conference match we play all season.”
The team will have the senior trio of Cole Zeigler (No. 1 singles), Colin Schmitz and Scott Dunn returning for the 2012 campaign.
“This will be Cole’s third and final year at varsity, where last year he was a district qualifier with doubles partner Cass Stadnik,” Korey said. “We are also counting on Colin to move up (from third singles) and play second singles this year. Also, Scott Dunn will need to move up to first doubles and learn to play with a new partner.
“These three seniors have proven themselves to be hard-working and dedicated to our program,” he added. “For us to be successful this year, our seniors will have to play hard every match and help lead the new varsity players.”
With Fairview having so many new varsity players, it might take some time for everyone to find their proper positions and to be comfortable and competitive.
“I am confident that our team will find its stride,” Korey said. “We are looking forward to the season.”