By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
As the 2012 tennis kicks off, there are a few things that are clear. The first is that area teams should be able to get in quite a few more matches this season than they did a year ago.
The bad news first, with as much rain and as many cancellations as there were a year ago, the early part of the season could be a roller-coaster ordeal for the teams that are young or inexperienced. Those young players had little chance to hone their skills.
The good news is that as the days are marked off the calendar, the play will pick up and those players will find consistency.
“We have had more time outside this year due to good weather, that is a bonus,” Conneaut coach Dave Simpson said.
The top dog has almost always been Geneva.
The Eagles could lose that title for a year, with five seniors from last season’s 17-5 team that claimed the Premier Athletic Conference title with a perfect 12-0 mark lost to graduation.
Any number of teams could unseat the Eagles as the area’s top team. Perry, Jefferson, Edgewood and Lakeside will be chomping at the bit.
Here’s a team-by-team look at the season:
The Spartans return five lettermen from a team that was 5-12 last season. Unfortunately for coach Dave Simpson, his numbers don’t go much further. Just eight players are out for the squad.
“Staying healthy and time outside the courts (are the keys to our success),” Simpson said. “We have an experienced core of senior players but a limited number of players.”
Seniors Joey Brennan, Anthony Chadwick, Anthony Walsh and Jeff Mast will have to be the leaders for the Spartans. Sophomore Scott Gerdes should grow by leaps and bounds in his second year with the varsity.
Good health will be an absolute must for the Spartans as they have just three other players. If the five lettermen start, junior Jordan Hinson and freshmen Brandon Jashurek and Jacob Edwards will have to fight for the other two spots, leaving only one player to fill in for anyone who misses time.
If two players are out at the same time, the Spartans will be forced to forfeit one of the matches.
“We can’t afford any injuries because filling an empty spot would be difficult,” Simpson said.
Gerdes, Edwards and Jashurek will be important cogs, though they are still young.
“We have one sophomore with varsity experience and a freshman who played No. 1 on the middle school team last year, they will be expected to compete,” Simpson said. “We also have another freshman who is new to the game, but an excellent athlete. He will have to pick it up quickly.”
Without a conference, Simpson has had to get creative in preparing the Spartans for the postseason.
“We are not in any conference, but by scheduling teams that we might see at state tournament time we wil have a look at the competition before sectionals,” he said. “Playing some bigger Division I schools and Pennsylvania schools allows us to play good, established programs.”
One thing that will be certain is the Warriors will be in shape with Greg Stolfer in his second year as coach. Conditioning has always been the hallmark of a Stolfer-led team.
And the Warriors will put in the effort their coach asks for. That should pay off.
“The athletes are working very hard and we will continue to work hard,” Stolfer said. “I am a firm believer, work hard and good things will happen.”
It will help the Warriors that they have experience. Seven lettermen return from a 7-7 team.
Seniors Matthew Stolfer, Dylan Sweet and Zachary Williamson and juniors Josh Braden, Shane McTrusty, Marco Orlando and Stephen Orlando should be a dangerous group.
Should one or more of them be out of the lineup, the Warriors will get young – and quick.
Sophomores Aaron Ball, David Richards and Ben Wiese and freshmen Adam Heffner, James Kulko, Kevin Maurer, Lee Miller, Maddie Smith, Dustin Thompson and Tyler Williams will all be vying
to be the next in line.
If the Eagles want to repeat as PAC champions and remain the top team in the area, they must grow up in a quickly.
“We are young and inexperienced,” coach Phil Dubsky said. “We will start at least two freshmen high in the order. We must mature in a hurry and work hard to continue improving all year.”
Just three lettermen return for the Eagles — senior Ryan Huang and juniors Jacob Groce and Ford Carlisle.
“Ryan Huang must provide consistent senior leadership,” Dubsky said. “Jacob Groce must emerge as a legitimate No. 1 player.”
Depth will not be an issue for Dubsky as he has juniors Adam Gruber, Joe Roney and Dakota Craft, sophomores Anthony Barszewski and Ryan Weisbarth and freshmen Brent McFarland, Brock Ebersole, Michael Ankrom, Jacob Huang, Josh Roney and Eric Logan waiting in the wings.
Repeating as PAC champs may be an uphill battle.
“South will be the clearcut favorite,” Dubsky said. “Five of their top six players were juniors last year and they have a highly ranked freshman who will be the best player in the league.”
Four seniors – Nick Bishop, Bruce Colby, Cody Magda and Alex McCartney – and a junior — Zach Mucci — have extensive varsity experience as returning lettermen.
It doesn’t hurt that coach Lou Murphy’s group, collectively, is a very smart one.
“The Falcons tennis team will have a lot of experience in match play,” Murphy said. “They are very intelligent in the classroom and that really helps with the carryover onto the tennis court. As a team, they have worked very hard in the concepts of high level strategy toward the game in their journey towards a championship season.”
Nine players will be competing to fill the final two varsity slots.
The contenders include senior Brad Weisbarth, junior Rob Wynn, sophomores Jerod Nunley, Mason Taylor, Jake Wright and David Bookbinder and freshmen Mark Reinke, Brandon Skuza and Ben Pickard.
Jefferson is moving into the All-American Conference but is ready to quit playing the bridesmaid in order to become the bride after years of finishing second or third in the Northeastern Conference prior to becoming an independent.
“We will be the underdogs coming into our first quest in winning the league, but I like siding with the
underdog,” Murphy said. “Lakeview has won the boys for seven years.
“It’s our turn.”
After back-to-back 15-win seasons, coach Bob Walters, in his 48th year as coach, will rely heavily on sophomores and freshmen.
The Dragons return just three lettermen this season in senior Reno Dannels and sophomores Kyle Downs and Logan Stowell.
Though they will experience some growing pains along the way, Walters is confident his young players will answer the call.
“We are short on experience, so our young, inexperienced players must develop quickly and rise to the many challenges that they will face and I believe they will,” Walters said.
Senior Jimmy Vrtalnik and junior Jake Campbell will be joined by sophomores Ryan Applebee, Jesse Blair, Jake Cimorelli, Anarello Lyon, Raymond Morrison and Chris Otto and freshmen Tyler Kinney, John Mussig, Ricky Oberstar, Josh Perry and
Jake Vernille in fighting for playing time.
The PAC chase could be fun to watch with nearly every team looking to fill a number of open positions.
“Geneva loses five seniors, but they have Groce and Huang to anchor the team,” Walters said. “Plus, they had a very successful JV team last year. Chardon loses four-plus seniors. We lost four seniors.
“Hopefully, it will be very interesting.”
The Blue Streaks should turn the corner with six lettermen returning to a team that was just 2-17 and 0-12 in the PAC last season.
Four seniors – Chris Waldron, Nick Elmore, Heath Richardson and Jake Cassidy — and a pair of juniors — Brandon Ortiz and Patrick Barton — will be the front runners to fill the top six positions in the lineup.
Twenty-one players, six juniors, eight sophomores and seven freshmen will challenge for playing time.
Madison needs to find solid play from the back end of the lineup.
“(We need) consistent play, especially from third singles and both doubles teams,” coach Mark Vidmar said.
“We have depth to fill in at doubles and third singles.”
Vidmar still believes the Eagles are the favorite in the PAC.
“Geneva will be the team to beat with Lakeside, South, North and Chardon being very competitive,” he said. “South has three key starters or else they would have been a top contender with Geneva.”
The Pirates have seven returning lettermen from a team that was 15-4 (7-2, second in the Chagrin Valley Conference) last season.
The impressive part of that equation is that this team does not have an experienced senior in the mix and boasts five sophomores with significant varsity experience.
Juniors Alex Guthrie and Dan Walker and sophomores Alex Rogalski, Christian Fatica, Jeff Fabis, Mike Walker and Tyler West will be the men who should find places in the starting lineup.
They will be pushed by senior Joe Walker, junior Darrin Neiman and freshmen Ryan Best, Christian Dahneke, Elijah Rae and Austin Cousins.
Already steady, coach Bob Walker expects the Pirates to keep building on a good base.
“Consistent first and second singles and third singles and doubles will keep improving through the season.” he said.
Perry will be chasing a familiar foe for the CVC title.
“Our toughest competition will still be Aurora. Hopefully, (we’ll) be able to come out on top this year.”
The Beavers may be the team hurt most by losses. They return just two lettermen, young ones at that, in Thomas Durra and Jacob Poyar.
Those two young men will be counted on heavily.
“I am hoping for some success at the three singles positions,” coach Scott Bailis said. “Jacob Poyar and Tommy Durra will play first and second. Hopefully, their year of varsity experience will pay dividends this year.”
Joining the ranks will be senior Matthew Liberatore, Quentin Holla, Adam Nelson, James Vaccariello and Jesse Raines and sophomores Matthew Shymske and Joshua Kolengowski.
The PAC champion could be a new one in 2012.
“South has a very good chance of dethroning Geneva this year,” Bailis said. “They appear to be at the top of the conference. Lakeside and Chardon are always competitive.”
SS. John and Paul
After a year without a program, the Heralds return to the court under Todd Nassief.
They are back with four players who have won varsity letters in the past, including seniors Tyler Hornbeck and Dominic Candela and sophomores Emily Powers and Matthew Pinelli.
The rest of the lineup will be exrely green with freshmen Evelyn Anderson, Ali Rocco, Zac Cimorelli, Caroline Kovacs and Sarah Fowler rounding out the roster.
It will be a building year for the Heralds.
“Our main goal is to just have fun and enjoy the sport,” Nassief said. “We have a great group of kids who are very enthusiastic. Hopefully, we can acquire the fundamentals, improve a little bit each day and enjoy competing.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at email@example.com.