By VINCE PELUSO
Geneva senior Jacob Groce was an excellent player in 2012, winning the Star Beacon’s Ashtabula County Tennis Player of the Year award.
But, according to his coach Phil Dubsky, he’s been even better in 2013 and he’ll get a chance to show that today, when he squares off with Warren John F. Kennedy’s Jad Abul-Aal in Division II district match in Canton.
“He’s improved a ton over the last year,” Dubsky said. “He was a good player last year, he was a solid No. 1 but this year he’s... wow! He’s had a very good year and improved quite a bit and beaten a number of players this year who qualified for state last year and qualified for district.
“He was the third seed at the sectional and held that seed. He played a very good match against the No. 2 seed, who was the defending state doubles champion.”
Groce said he wanted to improve to help his team, which won the Premier Athletic Conference yet again this season.
“I am excited and really looking forward to (today),” he said. “I knew I had to play well this season for our team and myself, I tried my best and knew I could to get out. Getting to the seeding was great and I was able to get a really good seeding.”
Dubsky didn’t sugarcoat Groce’s chances today, admitting he’ll be the underdog, but that doesn’t mean he can’t upset Abul-Aal.
“It’s gonna be a tough match for him, he’ll be the decided underdog,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s an unwinnable match. He just has to play as well as he’s capable of playing and hope that things come through.
“I can tell you this, Jacob Groce is a fighter, he will grind and give it everything he has.”
Groce doesn’t know much about his opponent, other than that he qualified for state last year, but he said that doesn’t really help or hurt his chances.
“I just have to play my game and just stay positive,” he said. “I just have to be mentally tougher than he is and want it a little more. I know he’s a state qualifier, heard a few things about him. I’m just going to approach it the same as any match.
“You have to pick out what you can in the warmup, battle it out and see what you can.”
In some sports, reaching the district level might not be seen as a great feat, but coming out of the Division II sectional at Brush in tennis is quite an accomplishment.
“Especially in our sectional, since we went Division II, the Division II sectional at Brush is the toughest in the state,” Dubsky said. “There are 16 sectionals and 16 players make it to state, our sectional had 3 make it to state including the state champ last year. Out of 16 sectionals that produce 16 doubles, our sectional had three of those teams, including state champ.
“It’s as tough a sectional as there is with all those private schools that we’re up against.”
For the Geneva team it was another successful year as the Eagles won the PAC by going undefeated, something for which Dubsky gave Groce a lot of credit.
“We’re always happy to be successful and Jacob Groce was a big part of that,” he said. “It really helps when you have a really dominate No. 1 player, it really opens up possibilities for your lineup. You have to give credit to the kids, they fought through and wanted to go undefeated and that’s what they did.
“They had the pride to pull through and wanted to finish undefeated.”
Groce’s match will begin at 9 a.m. today at Harvard Park in Canton.
Also in action at Harvard Park today will be the Perry doubles team of Alex Guthrie and Dan Walkeer.
They will square off with Kevin Cole and Shance Sencer of Vermillion.
Semifinals and finals for the district will be held on Saturday.