Race for WSC boys tennis crown up in the air
West Shore Conference
By Dan Gilles
The top four boys tennis teams in the West Shore Conference all believe they have a legitimate claim for the team championship this year.
And, looking at defending champion Lakewood, defending runner-up Rocky River, Bay and Avon, all four have enough talent to make this year’s conference season and postseason tournament a very competitive one.
Of the four, the defending champion Rangers may have the toughest road to hoe. After going 13-4 and going unbeaten in the WSC last year, they will only have two lettermen returning and have to replace five starters.
Senior Collin Levis, who was second-team All-WSC, and sophomore Frank Figueiredo, who was the top newcomer, are Lakewood’s lone returners.
The rest of the spots will be filled by players who did well at the JV level last season – two juniors and three sophomores.
Junior Avery Satayathum finished third at first singles in the WSC last season, while junior Grant Senger and sophomore Alex Figueroa each were WSC JV runners-up at first doubles and third singles, respectively. Sophomores Alex Grunder, Zeke Dalisky and Jon Pizzo each won WSC JV championships last season.
“We are very young and inexperienced, but we have a very deep team of players that are very competitive so we hope to still be in the mix for WSC contention,” said Lakewood coach Chris Johnson, entering his 13th season at the helm.
Rocky River will celebrate Jeff Sinnema’s 42nd and final year coach boys tennis this spring and hope to send him out with one more conference championship for his mantel.
The Pirates went 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the WSC, with their lone loss coming to Lakewood. However, unlike the Rangers, they will have to only one starter – multi-time district qualifier Henry Grierson.
Rocky River’s eight returning lettermen include seniors Garrett Stefani (first singles), Brad Pease (second singles), Mike Ittu and Ryan McDermott (first doubles), and Sean Baxley and Tom Robenalt (both competing for third singles), along with juniors Conner Jurs and Christian Knuebel (second doubles).
Juniors Nathan Seffernick and Conner Thorp, sophomore James Ridzon and freshman Siwei Wang will provide depth and contribute when the opportunity presents itself.
“Our biggest strength is the experience these athletes have from last year’s matches,” Sinnema said. ‘However, we lack depth after the initial eight lettermen.
“I believe we will be very competitive due to our returning athletes. The league should be balanced with Avon, Bay, Midview and Lakewood returning with good players. Avon’s Nico Mostardi should be the premier athlete again this year in the WSC.”
Mostardi, who won the WSC and Lorain County Athletic Administrators Association Tournament championships as a freshman, returns to lead Avon from the first singles position again this spring. Avon went 10-7 overall and finished tied for third with Bay in the conference.
Mostardi was 16-1 during the regular season, with his only loss to Division I state champion Jacob Dunbar, and finished second at the Division I sectionals and came within one match of qualifying for the state tournament at districts.
“He is bigger and stronger as a sophomore and we expect him to qualify for state,” said Avon’s Art Gibbs, entering his fourth overall year as the head coach.
Mostardi will be joined by junior Chance Nicklaus (second singles) and fellow sophomores Oliver Burger (third singles) and Navi Baskar (first doubles) as the returning lettermen.
Newcomers to Avon include freshman Spencer Yates (first doubles), juniors Steven Brown, Yuto Iwaizumi and William Alexander and freshman Austin Williams (all competing for second doubles).
“We have three untested doubles players, but I think as a group, they are stronger than last year’s players,” Gibbs said. “Yates is a freshman and should get better as he gets used to high school competition.”
This is Avon’s last year in the WSC, and Gibbs is hoping to leave the conference as the champion. He’s also shooting for the LCAAA Tournament championship.
“Last year, Bay Village had five seniors on their team and so did Lakewood,” Gibbs said. “How well they reload will be a deciding factor in who wins. The preseason favorite might be Rocky River, which will be trying to give retiring coach Jeff Sinnema one more conference championship.
“I feel the three newcomers to the team are strong enough players to give us a shot at winning. Our goal is to win it.”
Bay, which went 6-8 overall and finished tied for third, lost four of the seven starters to graduation. But, as head coach Dave Peters said, “All is not lost.”
The Rockets have three lettermen returning in seniors Brandon Myers (three-year letterman) and Dan Hippler (district qualifier and second-team All-WSC selection) and junior Jack Reiss (first-team All-WSC). However, the player generating the most buzz is freshman Adam Krueger, who will play first singles.
“My ninth grader is a stud,” Peters said. “Adam Krueger was ranked 17th in the Great Lakes last year as an eighth grader and should be one of the top ninth graders in the area. We’re excited about his potential and what he can do over the next four years.”
Sophomore Martin Sanderson is a promising transfer and will play third singles for Bay. Seniors Matt Koch, Jackson Brill and Nate McIntyre will fill the last two spots on a rotating basis.
“I believe Bay will challenge for the top spot in the WSC with powerhouse Avon and the ever dangerous and deep Rocky River,” Peters said. “This should be a fun year for the WSC.”
Both Bay and Rocky River will be competing in the Division II sectionals at Tri-City Park, while Avon and Lakewood will compete at the Division I tournaments at Oberlin College. Circle Avon at Rocky River on April 8 and Rocky River at Bay on April 30.
Rounding out the area WSC teams is North Ridgeville, who is still searching for a victory after five straight winless seasons – the last four under head coach Brandon May. However, May is optimistic about his team’s chances this season to finally get off the schneid.
North Ridgeville returns four lettermen from last year’s 0-14 team – juniors Stephen Bickford and Joe Scott, senior Eric Oster and sophomore Brian Priore. Senior Matt Hall, a newcomer to tennis, is progressing quickly and could see some quality playing time, along with freshmen Nick Miller and Brandon Vocaire.
“Their strengths are they are very dedicated and want to constantly play and get better,” May said.
“They are always asking for help and want improvement. As for weaknesses, I would just say experience. Several players are new to the sport, so for them, it’s going to take an adjustment and experience to be match-ready.
“Some of the goals that I have – I’m looking for them to play smart, to grow and learn the sport and to incorporate different strategies, based on their opponents. This year, I would say this is best team that we’ve had in five years, as a team altogether. I’m hoping that we have some good matches and the players can adjust to their opponents and hopefully do well.”
Other key dates are the LCAAA Tournament at Avon Lake on April 11 and 12 and the Rocky River Pirate Invitational on April 19.
Vermilion and Midview round out the WSC. Elyria Catholic, for the second year in a row, will not field a boys tennis team.
Two area Division II teams that play independent schedules this season are Fairview and Lake Ridge Academy.
Lake Ridge Academy went 12-2 last season and has five lettermen returning. That group is led by a pair of seniors – three-time district qualifier Caleb Mayer (first singles) and two-time district qualifier Roger Peckham (second singles).
Mayer and Peckham are striving for their fourth and third trips to the Canton District, respectively, while also hoping to get over their winless hump and make a run toward state. Mayer is 0-3 at districts, while Peckham is 0-2.
Junior Henry Lin, sophomore Casey Al-Haddad and senior Varun Kumar round out the group of lettermen. All three are vying for the third singles spot behind Mayer and Peckham, and the two who don’t make it will play doubles. Coach Rich Robbins does not to pair Lin and Kumar at doubles, so if Al-Haddad wins the third singles spot, the duo will break in new partners at first and second doubles.
Juniors Chris Miller, Skyler Coleman and Jesse Krislov, along with senior Vasu Munjaeara, are vying for the two vacant doubles spots. Miller is the early leader and will likely play first doubles.
“We have pretty good match-play, postseason and tournament experience coming back,” said Lake Ridge coach Rich Robbins, entering his fifth year. “We have good leadership at the top with Caleb and Roger. But outside of Caleb and Roger, who play quite a bit, we probably didn’t get as much court time for some of our other players. Everyone takes off the last two weeks of March for spring break, so it’s tough.
“We also have a tough schedule. We play Bay and Avon right out the box in the first week, and we also play Western Reserve Academy, Westlake, Beachwood, Avon Lake and Brunswick. We’ll also be competing in the Hawken Invitational, which has a tough field.”
The Royals are also shooting for their second-straight LCAAA Tournament championship, but know they’ll have tough competition in Avon and host Avon Lake.
“I think we’re a little weaker than we were last year, but I think we’ll be in the running for the title,” Robbins said. “We’re going to be solid with some question marks. But I think we should have a winning record and we’ll be very competitive. It all depends on third singles and first and second doubles.
“We need people to win at those spots. Most matches are won at those spots, so we need those players to step up.”
Fairview only returns two lettermen from last year’s team in senior Mike DeRosa and sophomore Matt Horn. DeRosa was the team’s MVP last season at first singles and will return to that position for the second-straight year. Horn played first doubles last season and may return there this year, but his position is up in the air.
The top newcomer for the Warriors is sophomore Felix Wollman. His position for the 2014 season is also up in the air at the moment.
“This is a great group of guys,” Fairview coach Eric Korey said. “They have worked hard in the offseason and are excited for the year to start.”