By Dan Gilles
There may have been two different locations, and the date of the event may have changed once or twice in the week leading up to it. But in the end, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
Westlake, coming into the annual postseason Southwestern Conference Tennis Tournament unbeaten in conference play, dominated the tournament in every aspect last Saturday at Avon Lake High School.
In winning their third-straight SWC championship, the Demons, for the first time, won every single individual championship there was, scoring a maximum 40 points.
“What a great tournament from our boys,” Westlake coach Jeffrey Mannies said. “All of the Westlake boys will be named first-team All-Southwestern Conference – the first time that’s happened. Several of our guys earned gold balls (for not losing a single game in their match victories). I’m just proud of the effort.”
Junior Colton Buffington (three-time first singles champ) and seniors Jason Wissman (two-time second singles champ) and Abhi Ramachandran (third singles) swept the singles titles, while the teams of J.T. Rapaport and Kevin Wang (juniors, first singles) and Aroh Pandit (senior) and Stephen Fleischer (junior, second doubles) swept the doubles titles for the Demons.
“I thought the competition was close this year with a lot of great overall players,” said Olmsted Falls coach Laura Graham, whose team finished fourth behind Avon Lake (31) and Brecksville (30) with 23 points. “Westlake was just tougher than everyone else. But they are a class act team led by a class act coach.”
Originally scheduled for Saturday, the tournament was moved to Friday to attempt to counteract the recent rainy weather. Medina High School was originally set as the scheduled host. However, early rains on Friday caused the tournament to be moved back to Saturday, and Avon Lake stepped up as the pinch-hitting host.
And, thanks to nice weather on Saturday, the tournament was completed in full.
Buffington, thanks to a conflicting academic commitment by his scheduled first-round opponent, Olmsted Falls’ Sohan Vartek, only had to win two matches to retain his title. He made quick work of Amherst’s Alex Flock and Brecksville’s Matt Dietrich, winning each match 6-0, 6-0.
“Two gold balls for Colton,” Mannies said. “He’s had a fantastic season, and he’s really hitting his zone with sectionals right around the corner.”
Wissman defeated Midpark, 6-0, 6-0; Berea, 6-0, 6-0; and Brecksville’s Dan Lionetti in the finals, 6-0, 6-1.
“Wissman garnered two gold balls and just missed out on a third,” Mannies said. “A fantastic tournament for Jason. He was dominating out there.”
Ramachandran easily beat Berea’s Tyler, 6-0, 6-0, to win a gold ball, then defeated Avon Lake’s Tim Villari, 6-1, 6-0, and Olmsted Falls’ Mark Zapotosky in the finals, 6-2, 6-4.
“Mark did a nice job in reaching the finals,” Graham said. “He beat North Olmsted in two sets, then Brecksville in two sets. I was proud of what he accomplished today.”
As expected, the first doubles bracket was the most competitive of the tournament and resulted of the closest match of the five championship bouts.
Rapaport and Wang were the only Demon players to be taken to three sets in the entire tournament, outlasting Avon Lake’s Ben Troyer and Greg Miller in the finals, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. They defeated Amherst’s Kyle Szucs and Jake Bartosh, 6-2, 6-1, and then avenged their lone loss of the season to Olmsted Falls’ Michael Snelly and Colin Kloock, 6-2, 6-2, to reach the finals.
Snelly and Kloock shook off the loss to defeat Brecksville, 6-3, 6-3, to claim third place.
“Colin and Michael came back strong from that Westlake loss to defeat Brecksville in their next match,” Graham said. “I was proud of their resiliency to place in the top three in a very tough bracket.”
Pandit and Fleischer earned their gold-ball award for defeating Amherst’s David Bartizol and Adam Pinchback, 6-0, 6-0, then bested Olmsted Falls’ Alex Snelly and Taylor Weber, 7-6 (6), 6-4 in the semifinals. In the finals, they defeated Avon Lake’s Jack O’Neill and Jimmy Chase, 6-3, 6-3.
“Alex and Taylor were up against Westlake 5-2 before falling behind and losing in a tiebreaker,” Graham said. “They then went on to beat Brecksville in two sets (6-4, 6-4) in their final match. For both doubles teams to take third is fantastic.
“I was really proud of my players today,” she added.
The field was rounded out by Amherst (fifth, 20), North Olmsted (sixth, 13), Midpark (seventh, 12) and Berea (eighth, 11). Neither team had any individuals place in the top four in any of the five categories.