By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
There is very little that will change heading into the 2013 tennis season. Geneva, with a heavily experienced team, will remain the team to beat. Jefferson and Lakeside will be nipping at the Eagles’ tail feathers. Conneaut and Edgewood and St. John are brimming with promising youth and Madison and Perry will look to make a splash in Lake County.
Only one new coach will take to the sidelines with Leslie Douglass assuming the top position at Edgewood.
Lakeside coach Bob Walters is a just a year away from his 50th anniversary as a coach, Jefferson’s Lou Murphy has put more than 30 years and Madison’s Mark Vidmar is nearing his 25th year.
The one negative thing to consider is that Riverside will not have a team for the first time in years.
Here’s an outlook for each of the teams in the Star Beacon’s coverage area:
The Spartans’ strength will lie in their youth. Coach Dave Simpson will welcome six freshmen to a team that boasts just four juniors and seniors. Only one of those four, junior Scott Gerdes brings varsity experience with him. The others, seniors T.J. Edwards and Jordan Hinson and junior Kyle Higginbotham, will be learning on the fly.
Other than Gerdes, only sophomores Jacob Edwards and Brandon Jasharek earned letters last season.
“With only three letterwinners returning, gaining experience will be key,” Simpson said. “We need to get outside and the weather is not cooperating. Scott Gerdes was 10-6 at third singles last year and Jacob Edwards and Brandon Jasharek played mostly second doubles. Their progression will be important. We picked up a big left-hander in first-time player T.J. Edwards, a good athlete. He will be important in doubles.
“We have added a first-year junior and six freshmen. The freshmen all played in the eighth grade at the middle school. We are very excited as they are a talented group and will have to step up right away. The players and I are very excited to get the season underway and to get outside.”
Freshmen Rashad Al-Arabi, Adam Bisset, Alex Gerdes, Gage Janek, Sean O’Meara and Tyee Stewart will get on-the-job training this season.
The Spartans lack a conference, so they will not compete for a league title. However, that doesn’t exactly mean they don’t have something to play for.
“Since we are not in a conference, we have to look forward to playing traditional rivals and local county teams like Edgewood, Jefferson, St. John and Grand River Academy,” Simpson said. “Other teams we look forward to, to test our talents against and also prepare us for the OHSAA tournament include Lakeside, NDCL, Perry, Gilmour Academy and Poland among others.
“We have a full schedule against teams that will test us, give us experience and prepare us for going into the state tournament.”
In her first season, Douglass will undertake a tough task. The Warriors return just three letterwinners from last season’s team and have just one senior and a pair of juniors on the roster. Douglass, though, is taking a glass-half-full approach and welcomes the challenge.
“Having a young team, our goal for this season is to create depth as well as solid tennis techniques and skills,” she said. “This year is filled with many new things for us and we are all excited for the season to start.”
Douglass has a pretty good grasp on how she wants to build her program.
“In the words of Vince Lombardi, ‘The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand,’” she said.
Returning to the Warriors this season are junior Ben Wiese and sophomores James Kulko and Lee Miller. Senior Jacob Crislip and junior Aaron Ball will help provide leadership. Sophomores Dylan Bland, Kevin Maurer, Madeline Smith, Dustin Thompson and Anthony Jackson and freshmen David Santee and Max Barbo will gain valuable experience.
A thought few like to ponder is the Eagles lost just one seniors from a team that was 19-2 and was perfect once again in the Premier Athletic Conference last season.
Seniors Jacob Groce, Ford Carlisle, Adam Gruber, Joe Roney and Dakota Craft, junior Anthony Barszczewski and sophomores Brent McFarland and Brock Ebersole all played some kind of role in the Eagles’ 2012 season and all are back ready to continue the proud Geneva tradition.
Coach Phil Dubsky will tinker with the lineup until he finds just the right mix. Important in that pursuit will be just how well the Eagles take to the idea that they need to work together in order for the season to be a success.
“As always, senior leadership will be the most important barometer,” Dubsky said. “Getting our lineup correct will be important and putting the right doubles combinations together and having them gel will be key. Having our players come together in pursuit of a common cause will determine our individual and collective fates.”
Sophomore Josh Roney and freshmen Louis Murphy, Mike Keenan, Mitchell Felde, Ben Gruber, Zach Stehura and Derek Studer are all well versed in the Geneva tradition and will look to make their marks.
There’s simply no other way to put it than to say the Eagles, as always, will be the top contender in the PAC. That doesn’t mean the rest of the league will roll out the red carpet for them.
“We would have to be the favorites,” Dubsky said. “South will have the best No. 1 singles player from last year returning and also the best third singles player from last year. Lakeside has a solid nucleus returning and Chardon is always competitive.”
Coach Lou Murphy has the fewest returning letterwinners in the area with just senior Zach Mucci and junior Mason Taylor back. Strategy will be important to the team’s success.
“Learning to use the best shot for the various situations in the game,” Murphy said. “We need to keep the ball out of the middle of the court.”
Getting their first taste of varsity action will be senior Rob Wynn, juniors David Bookbinder, Joe Paolillo, Dustin Pilkington and Richie Blough, sophomores Ben Pickard, Brandon Skuza, Corey Jones and Mark Reinke and freshmen Ian Parkomaki, Mike Nelson, Emery Buchan and Cody Lowe.
Murphy would like nothing more than to challenge for the All-American Conference title.
“Liberty and Lakeview will be strong this year,” he said. “I want to be in there with them.”
The Dragons are hungry to improve on a 10-11 season last year and have committed to doing something about it. Coach Bob Walters, in his 49th year as coach, sees Lakeside’s fate hinging on his players living up to those commitments.
“My players need to stay as motivated and determined throughout the season as they are now,” Walters said. “They all need to successfully make the changes in their individual games from last year’s play and they need to reach the individual and team goals that they each have articulated and committed to.”
Five juniors and a senior are back in 2013 with letters in hand with eight youngsters battling to be part of the mix.
Senior Jake Campbell and juniors Ryan Applebee, Jake Cimorelli, Kyle Downs and Logan Stowell have the experience. Juniors Jesse Blair and Raymond Marrison, sophomores Tyler Kinney and John Mussig and freshmen Ryan Collins, Robert Cottom, Clark Heath and Dylan Sizemore are fighting to be part of the mix.
Walters understands which team in the PAC is the one to beat. He also knows he wants his Dragons to have a say in who wins the title.
“Geneva will be the odds-on favorite based on last year’s record and they only lost one player from that team,” he said. “However, we are going to be ready to compete!”
If coach Mark Vidmar has a problem in regards to numbers, it’s that he has too many players. The upside of that is he has 25 players on the roster. The downside is that just four of them have varsity experience.
The four Blue Streaks with varsity experience are Brandon Ortiz, Patrick Barton, Chris Campbell and Billy Gibson. Ortiz, Barton and junior Jacob Schauer will be important cogs in the singles aspect of the game. The other 22 players will provide depth and much-needed competition on the practice courts.
“Consistent play from Brandon Ortiz, Patrick Barton and Jacob Schauer in singles (will be key to our success),” Vidmar said. “Depth in doubles should make us competitive there.”
The road to the PAC title runs through Geneva. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.
“Geneva should dominate with the rest of the league being very competitive, especially at first singles,” Vidmar said.
Coach Bob Walker returns nearly a full lineup to a team that was 14-3 a year ago and took second in the highly competitive Chagrin Valley Conference.
Seniors Dan Walker, Alex Guthrie and Tyler West and juniors Christian Fatica, Ryan Best and Mike Walker have Walker excited about the season.
“We will need great production and leadership from our seniors,” Walker said. “If that happens, we should be right in the thick of the conference race. We’re looking forward to a great season!”
Sophomores Christian Dahnake and Elijah Rae and freshman Drew Dimmick will fight it out for last spot in the lineup.
The Pirates’ work is cut out for them when it comes to taking the next step in becoming the CVC’s best team.
“As usual, Aurora will be the team to beat in our conference,” Walker said. “We will need to split our two matches with them in the regular season and see what happens at the conference tourney.”
Youthful but experienced might be the best way to describe coach Todd Nassief’s Heralds. There are eight players returning to the team with letters. However, None of them are seniors and six of them are sophomores or freshmen.
Juniors Emily Powers and Matthew Pinelli, sophomores Zachary Cimorelli, Ali Rocco, Caroline Kovacs, Evelyn Anderson and Sarah Fowler and freshman Joey Ferrante all played extensively last year. Joining their ranks will be freshman Jessie DiSalvatore.
“They are a great group of kids to coach,” Nassief said. “They are working hard and doing everything I have asked of them. We lost our two top players to graduation and another starter is out for the season due to a basketball injury, so this will be create some opportunities for other kids to play.
“The key to our success will be consistency. We are even younger than last year, so I am counting on leadership from some young kids.”
The Heralds conference will amount to traditional rivals.
“In the county, Geneva is head and shoulders above everyone else,” Nassief said. “Lakeside and Jefferson are always tough and well-coached. Edgewood could surprise some teams as well.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.