By Dan Gilles
Rocky River sewed up the regular season half of the West Shore Conference championship on the eve of the conference tournament April 27, when it defeated rival Bay, 3-2, capping off a 6-0 regular season.
It took a few days to accomplish because of rainy weather, but the Pirates finally were able to call themselves outright WSC boys tennis champions Thursday, scoring 32 points and advanced to the championship match in all five divisions, winning two of them.
Bay, which has won the conference tournament the last two seasons, only had one individual champion and wound up in third with 25 points – one point behind runner-up Vermilion and one point ahead of fourth-place Avon.
“With all the shifting of the conferences and losing some teams, the WSC still has some very high-caliber tennis players,” Bay coach Dave Peters said. “We’re looking at two of the best players in the area at first singles (Vermilion’s Chaz Hansen and Rocky River’s Henry Grierson). We’ve got great doubles matches going on. It’s just an honor and a privilege to be a part of this tournament.
“Whoever wins it deserves to win it because they’ve got the talent. And next year should be even higher quality, with Lakewood coming in and Vermilion being a year older. I hope more people come around to watch it, because I really believe this is some of the best tennis in the area.”
Rocky River seniors Damian O’Malley and Nathan Van Rooy won the second doubles championship with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Vermilion’s Eddie Adkins and Tim Niehart, while sophomore Garrett Stefani won the third singles title with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Avon freshman Chance Nicklaus.
Longtime Rocky River coach Jeff Sinnema was very happy with his team’s performance, which began on April 28 before thunderstorms wiped things out during the semifinal round.
“It’s very satisfying, for the simple fact that we only had one kid back from last year in Matthew Siwkiewicz,” Sinnema said. “In essence, we replaced six of the seven people we had last year. So, for us to come together like we did says a lot about our program. It shows that we’re doing something right. And we’ll be graduating five of our first seven and eight of our first 10 players, so we’re going to have to reload once again.
“It’s nice to have a move-in like Henry, from the Philadelphia area. But everything hinged around our players finding new positions and being comfortable in those positions.”
Grierson, a junior, gave the 18-0 Hansen a very tough battle in the first singles final. However, Hansen outlasted Grierson, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, to claim his first career first-singles title. He was also Vermilion’s lone champion.
“Vermilion was getting beat up pretty bad last year, but Coach (Joe) Tellier pulled them all together and it’s led to a great, great change in their whole attitude,” Sinnema said. “I think a lot of that has to do with Chaz, who has been at first singles since he was a freshman. They all feed off of what he can do and feed off of his enthusiasm. That just raises the level for the entire conference and makes it that much stronger.”
Hansen and Grierson may very well meet again at Tri-City Park this coming Saturday – Hansen is seeded first, while Grierson is seeded second, in the Division II sectionals, which begin Thursday.
Siwkiewicz advanced to the second singles championship, but he missed school Thursday because of an illness and wasn’t able to play the match, giving Avon’s Macklin Robbins the title by default.
“Matthew was a doubles player for us last year, and we asked him to move up to singles,” Sinnema said. “But our only two returners next year will be Henry and Garret Stefani. So we’ll be replacing a lot of people again. For them to be able to come together year after year, it’s very gratifying to me.”
Stefani, 21-2 during the regular season, was officially Rocky River’s first individual champion. He allowed Nicklaus to rally from a 3-0 deficit in the first set before winning, 7-5, but rode the wave of confidence into a dominant second set.
“It feels pretty good,” Stefani said. “It was 5-5 and I hit two winners past him, and I heard him say he lost all confidence after that. I think that’s what really boosted me in that second set.
“It’s good to give Sinnema another conference championship. I don’t know how many he has overall, but I know this is his sixth West Shore title. To be a key part of it is great.”
Like Stefani, O’Malley and Van Rooy won a tough first set before dominating the second set in the finals.
“It’s probably the first big win I’ve had in tennis during all my four years of high school,” said Van Rooy, who is 13-1 with O’Malley as a first-time doubles team. “It means that we helped the team out and it makes Mr. Sinnema proud. It makes the rest of the team happy. When you win, you feel good.”
Added O’Malley: “It definitely feels good to be part of another Rocky River boys tennis championship. All the players on this team are really great. We’re all good friends and we all play hard.”
At first doubles, defending doubles champion Scott Geuther and Zach Messina won the first set, 6-2, in the semifinals on April 28, but were trailing Vermilion’s Shane Spencer and Adam White, 5-4, in the second set before the rain hit. However, on Thursday, Geuther and Messina rallied to force a tiebreaker, and wound up with a 7-6 win to advance to the finals.
Geuther and Messina wound up defending their doubles title with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Rocky River’s Jon Lihani and Tim Smith, while Spencer and White had to settle for third, beating Elyria Catholic’s Sean Kilbane and Zach Konno, 6-4, 6-1.
“It was a little expected because we won last year and we were playing an all-new Rocky River team in the finals,” said Messina, who improved to 9-2 this season with Geuther. “We beat them 6-2, 6-2, during the regular season, so once we got to the finals, we felt pretty confident we were going to win again pretty easily.”
Added Geuther: “It’s definitely a really good feeling. Things got a little shaky during our semifinal match during the second set. But I knew we were going to come out strong this year, and I’m glad we got the job done.”
Bay also added some drama to the proceedings, when Jack Reiss held off Vermilion’s Connor Sexton, 6-1, 7-6 (7-5), in the final match of the tournament. Sexton rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the second game to force the tiebreaker. However, the win left the Rockets just one point short of second.
“This was a rebuilding year for us, so to come in third with the caliber of tennis that was here, I’m very, very pleased with the results,” Peters said. “We took a first and thirds across the board, and this was with a brand-new team. I had one senior and one returning letterman, and I’m nothing but pleased.
“They battled to get better. This is a two-year process. We’ll come back next year and hopefully improve out of that third-place spot we have and take a few more.”
Elyria Catholic, led by Clay Jerge’s third-place finish at first singles, took fifth in its first WSC tournament with 15 points.
North Ridgeville (sixth, 10) and Midview (seventh, 6) rounded out the field.
West Shore Conference Tournament
TEAM STANDINGS: 1. Rocky River 32, 2. Vermilion 26, 3. Bay 25, 4. Avon 24, 5. Elyria Catholic 15, 6. North Ridgeville 10, 7. Midview 6
FIRST SINGLES: First: Chaz Hansen (Vermilion) def. Henry Grierson (Rocky River), 5-7, 6-3, 6-2; Third: Clay Jerge (Elyria Catholic) def. Ben Schmitz (Avon), 6-2, 6-2; Fifth: Brandon Myers (Bay) def. Michael Minnick (North Ridgeville), 6-2, 6-2; Seventh: Jason Grau (Midview) won by default; Semifinals: Hansen def. Jerge, 6-1, 6-1; Grierson def. Schmitz, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).
SECOND SINGLES: First: Macklin Robbins (Avon) def. Matthew Siwkiewicz (Rocky River) by default; Third: Jack Reiss (Bay) def. Connor Sexton (Vermilion), 6-1, 7-6 (7-5); Fifth: Jack Jerge (Elyria Catholic) def. Stephen Bickford (Rocky River), 8-3; Seventh: Chris Andre de la Porte (Midview) won by default; Semifinals: Robbins def. Reiss, 6-2, 6-0; Siwkiewicz def. Sexton, 6-3, 6-2.
THIRD SINGLES: First: Garrett Stefani (Rocky River) def. Chance Nicklaus (Avon), 7-5, 6-1; Third: Tyler Enders (Bay) def. Kevin Cole (Vermilion), 6-2, 6-2; Fifth: Thomas Nguyen (North Ridgeville) def. Tyler Filiaggi (Elyria Catholic) by default; Semifinals: Stefani def. Enders, 6-3, 6-1; Nicklaus def. Cole, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
FIRST DOUBLES: First: Scott Geuther-Zach Messina (Bay) def. Jon Lihani-Tim Smith (Rocky River), 6-2, 6-4; Third: Shane Spencer-Adam White (Vermilion) def. Sean Kilbane-Zach Konno (Elyria Catholic), 6-4, 6-1; Fifth: Tyler Bach-Zack Wetzig (Avon) def. Jesse Fleming-Tom Wynne (Midview), 8-2; Semifinals: Lihani-Smith def. Kilbane-Konno, 6-0, 6-1; Geuther-Messina def. Spencer-White, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2).
SECOND DOUBLES: First: Damian O’Malley-Nathan Van Rooy (Rocky River) def. Eddie Adkins-Tom Niehart (Vermilion), 7-5, 6-2; Third: Dan Huntley-Elliot Snyder (Bay) def. Nick Rashedi-Colin Houston (Avon), 4-6, 6-1, 6-2; Fifth: Cory Gable-Joe Priebe (North Ridgeville) def. Eric Decaire-Ryan Latham (Midview), 8-4; Seventh: Simon Kamagantsev-Ruben Garcia (Elyria Catholic) won by default. Semifinals: O’Malley-Van Rooy def. Huntley-Snyder, 6-0, 6-3; Adkins-Niehart def. Rashedi-Houston, 6-3, 6-2.