By Dan Gilles
Last season, Rocky River finished tied with Twinsburg with an equal amount of wins atop the standings in the Rocky River Boys Tennis Quad Tournament. But the Tigers got the championship because they had fewer overall losses.
This season, albeit by just three wins, the Pirates made sure they wouldn’t lose their title on a technicality.
Rocky River gave retiring coach Jeff Sinnema his final tournament championship with 142 overall victories, which was just three more than Twinsburg’s second-place total of 139.
Not bad, considering that second singles player Brad Pease had to withdraw from the tournament due to an injury and finished in sixth place. Garrett Stefani (first singles) and the teams of Mike Ittu and Ryan McDermott (first doubles) and Christian Knuebel and Brandon Benson (second doubles) won championships, while Conner Jors (third singles) finished second.
“It’s nice because last year we lost because of games given up,” Sinnema said. “This year, the kids responded very well. We had one young man retire due to an injury, but the rest of the kids stepped up and won three championships and a second-place finisher. It shows the depth of our squad to this point of the season.
“I realize it was inclement weather for everybody, but the kids have to learn to play in this type of situation, whether it’s a dual match, sectionals, conferences. I think it’s good because it will help the kids bond together. They work for each other and they know what they’re going through.”
Singles were held at Tri-City Park in Rocky River, while doubles were held at Morton Park in Fairview Park.
Each player played four opponents in pro-set matches (first to eight wins). Scores were tabulated by factoring in combined wins and losses in those four pro sets, and team points were awarded based on the total amount of wins.
Stefani lost to Amherst junior Cory Habecker a few days earlier in a dual match. By the luck of the draw, the two didn’t cross paths Saturday in the first singles bracket and both wound up going 4-0 and achieved the maximum 32 wins.
However, Stefani only suffered four total losses, while Habecker lost a combined 11, giving the Pirate senior the championship.
“It feels great,” Stefani said. “My goal this year was to win it. It’s a shame I didn’t get to play Cory and that it came down to a tiebreaker. But, yeah, it feels great.
“I played a bunch over the offseason. I was playing over at Paramount (in Westlake) three days a week. I just worked really hard and conditioning. I played some USTA tournaments in the offseason to try to get better competition and brace myself for the challenges of playing first singles during the season.”
Habecker’s toughest matches were an 8-6 win over Twinsburg’s Austin Shiahearl and an 8-7 win over Fairview’s Mike DeRosa. He ended his day with an 8-3 win over Elyria’s Jeff Emilio.
“I was a little slow in my first match because I was trying to get used to the cold weather,” Habecker said. “But once I found my rhythm, I really took off with my matches.
“We had one match last week against Rocky River, and I won there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to face (Stefani) again. In the offseason, I didn’t play as much as wanted to. But I came in to this year feeling more confident and I want to continue from the year that I had.”
Habecker led Amherst to 89 total victories, which was good enough for fifth place.
Both doubles teams went 4-0 Saturday. Ittu and McDermott outscored their opponents, 32-6, while Knuebel and Benson outscored theirs, 32-5.
Knuebel and Benson finished tied with Twinsburg’s Marcus Torres and Anthony Lecore with 32 wins and a 4-0 performance. However, Torres and Lecore lost nine times, with the toughest match an 8-4 win over Amherst’s Robert Montgomery and Jackson Hazelette.
“It’s nice because a couple of our doubles players are underclassmen,” Sinnema said. “Connor Jors took second at third singles, and he only lost one match, and it was in the tiebreaker, 8-7 (to Twinsburg’s Pouya Jouharian), so he had 31 out of a possible 32 points. The depth definitely showed today.”
Sinnema was happy his team was able to win the tournament in his final year, but he gave all the credit to his kids.
“We’re in this for the kids,” he said. “I’m retiring after 50 years of coaching because it’s time. But the kids are performing well, and that’s why we’re in this. I’ve been blessed with some great kids and great parental support and great assistant coaches throughout the years.
“It’s gratifying to know that this tournament that we started many, many years ago is ending for me on a positive note. This was our first hurdle and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do.”
Fairview and Elyria finished tied with 93 total wins for third place behind Rocky River and Twinsburg. However, because the Pioneers lost three fewer games than the Warriors (119-122), Elyria was awarded third place.
Fairview was led by Matt Hom, who finished second at second singles with a 26-24 performance, and the doubles team of Alex Hobt and Alex Colon, which took second at first doubles.
Hom only won one match, an 8-1 decision over Elyria’s Scott Peggs, but was awarded a 7-7 draw when Pease had to bow out with an injury. He also lost to Oberlin’s Alexandria Walsh, 8-6, and Twinsburg’s Davna Peketi, the eventual second singles champion, 8-5. However, he was able to get one more victory than Walsh (25-25) for the runner-up spot.
Hobt and Colon went 29-22 in their 3-1 performance, with the only loss coming to Ittu and McDermott, 8-5.
Mike DeRosa took third at first singles (19-19), while the team of Jimmy Smith and Evan Yarian took third at second doubles (19-25).
Oberlin – led by its three female singles players – showed it could hang with the boys. While the Phoenix finished sixth with 68 total wins, both Walsh (second singles) and Reilly McInerney (third singles) each finished third in their respective divisions.