By Dan Gilles
The last two champions of the annual Rocky River Boys Tennis Quad – the host Pirates and Twinsburg – virtually matched each other win for win last Saturday.
The six-team event, which was moved to the Five Seasons Racquet Club in Westlake due to the inclement weather, was dominated by ROCKY RIVER and Twinsburg. The Pirates had two individual champions – senior Henry Grierson (first singles) and junior Garrett Stefani (second singles) – while the Tigers had three.
When it was all over, both teams had 144 wins out of their five tennis positions in the one set, best-of-eight pro-set format. However, due to Twinsburg losing 47 games compared to Rocky River losing a total of 49, the Tigers claimed the team championship for the second straight year.
“I thought the competition overall was tremendous, but I think us and Twinsburg were a little ahead of everybody,” Rocky River coach and tournament host Jeff Sinnema said. “I think that’s due to the stability of the coaches and with year-round programs in place. I thought there was a lot of parity, both at the top and within the rest of the field.
“Twinsburg and River each won 144 games, but the difference was just two losses – we lost 49, they lost 47. It was good tennis. It’s a shame that Mother Nature had to stick her head in, but I think everyone enjoyed themselves. I’m very appreciative of Five Seasons letting us come out and use the facility.”
All matches were scored in the pro-set format, with one set scored up to eight games. Individual champions were awarded based on the total number of wins they had, and ties were broken by the total number of losses they suffered during those best-of-eight pro-sets. Each player and doubles team played a maximum of four matches.
FAIRVIEW did not have any individual champions, but were led by one runner-up (Zach Jones at third singles) and had no one finish lower than fourth in their respective position. However, the Warriors were held to 88 wins, which was good enough for fourth place behind Amherst (third, 111) and ahead of Elyria (fifth, 64) and Oberlin (sixth, 41).
“I thought all of our guys performed well,” Fairview coach Eric Korey said. “I thought, with each match, our guys gained experience, and all of our guys ended today playing better than they had been before the tournament began.
“My second singles kid, for sure, did that. I thought my third singles players, for sure, made some good runs. For a lot of our beginners, this was their first-ever tournament, and they got some good tournament experience (Saturday). It was fun.”
Fairview replaced Elyria Catholic, who dropped its tennis program just weeks before the season was to begin. Korey said he would like to come back and compete in the tournament next year if they could.
Sinnema credited his younger players for stepping up. Both of Rocky River’s doubles teams (Jack Herrington-Ryan McDermott at first doubles; Connor Jors-Christian Knocbel at second doubles) each went 4-0 and earned the maximum amount of 32 wins.
However, Herrington and McDermott lost six games; one more than Twinsburg’s Saied Khanearly-Andrew Liflyanderhick, who were crowned champions. Also, Jors and Knocbel lost eight games, while Twinsburg’s Austin Shinheart-Nirmal Krishman went a perfect 32-0 to claim the title.
“I think it says a lot about the young kids,” Sinnema said. “We had a lot of young kids step up because we had some kids taking the ACT test (Saturday). So the kids came through under pressure, and I couldn’t be happier for them.
“The two that came in second lost because of games given up. At first doubles, we lost six games, but they lost five. You can’t get much closer than that. We had two firsts and two seconds, while Twinsburg had three firsts and one second. It just shows that all the kids can compete.”
Grierson, a defending district qualifier, stayed unbeaten on the season with a 4-0 performance at first singles, going 32-5. He had two 8-0 wins over Amherst’s Zack Sroka and Elyria’s Scott Behmer, an 8-1 win over Fairview’s Mike DeRosa and an 8-4 win over Oberlin’s Dima Bosch.
Twinsburg’s Sean Doherty also went 4-0, but he lost nine games. An 8-7 win over Bosch, who finished third, was the big culprit.
“So far, this season’s been great,” Grierson said. “We pretty much have a new team. We lost a lot of seniors last year, so we only have two returning varsity players (myself and Stefani). Our teams in a rebuilding state, but so far, we’ve fared pretty well.
“We were supposed to play matches every day this (past) week, and all but one were rainouts. So, I came in here with just one match. It’s a little frustrating, but everyone has to deal with it.”
Stefani also had some competition for the second singles crown, as both he and Amherst sophomore Cory Habecker each went 4-0. However, Stefani went 32-6, getting 8-0 wins over Oberlin’s Sarah Burbridge and Elyria’s Alex Melendez and 8-3 wins over Twinsburg’s Nick Bartolovic and Fairview’s Davey Cajka (Cajka finished third with a 23-23 mark).
“I came in and felt pretty good after my first match,” said Stefani, who had to fill in for Grierson at first singles for the first week. “I got some momentum and that carried me through all four matches. It’s always good to win your own event. It means a lot.
“I played one outdoor match and then came inside for the other three. But going from freezing outside to hot inside was a bit of an adjustment. And, it felt hotter inside because we had been outside.”
Fairview’s Jones was one of just two players (along with Habecker) from someone other than Rocky River or Twinsburg to finish as high as second place in their respective position. Jones won three of his four matches, going 27-16, with only an 8-3 loss to champion Steve Whitley of Twinsburg as his blemish.
Jones defeated Rocky River’s Nathan Seffernick, 8-0, Oberlin’s Cameron Schroth, 8-2, and Amherst’s Quinn Miller, 8-6. Seffernick took fifth with a 16-24 performance.
“He’s a kid that played for us his first two years but decided not to come out last year for his junior year,” Korey said. “He’s starting to get some of that rust off and he’s doing a good job doing that.”
Cajka split his matches, losing to both of the unbeaten players at second singles – 8-3 to Stefani and 8-4 to Habecker. He defeated Oberlin’s Burbridge, 8-3, and Elyria’s Melendez, 8-4.
Sinnema praised the six teams that competed in the tournament.
“A lot of these kids will see each other again at their sectionals, whether it’s at Rocky River (Division II) or Oberlin (Division I),” Sinnema said. “I think the quality of programs is becoming very even. The playing field is becoming a very even level.”
Rocky River will host a bigger tournament this coming Saturday, with Beachwood, St. Ignatius, Medina Highland and Westerville North highlighting the field. Singles will be played (weather-permitting) at Tri-City Park, while doubles will be played at Magnificat High School.