Growing up on the courts of Geneva, Isaac Palinkas will say yes — he could imagine playing doubles with his twin brother, Nathan, and going to three consecutive state tennis tournaments.
He could imagine being coached by his grandfather, Alex Steutzer, who began teaching the boys the game only because they had a willingness to learn it sometime around the age of 6.
He could also imagine representing Geneva High School on the tennis court against the top players from some of the most prestigious schools in the state with the eyes of the high school tennis community looking on.
He could imagine it, but then he’d say living it is a whole lot better.
“With your imagination, nothing will ever sum up until you actually live it,” Palinkas said. “You can imagine something all that you want, but it will never be as good as it is when it actually happens, so I thought it was so much better that what I imagined. Not everything was perfect, but I had memories with my brother and grandfather that I’ll treasure forever.”
He can now add 2019 Ashtabula County Player of the Year, as agreed upon by the coaches, to the box of treasures.
Isaac and Nathan went 14-2 this season as a doubles team and advanced to the state tournament in Mason a third consecutive season last month.
Prior to the postseason, he went 11-1 as the Eagles first-singles representative, his only loss was to eventual Division II state champion Andrew Zimcosky of Chagrin Falls.
While the doubles play earned him the most notoriety, playing solo was something he also took a lot of pride in.
“I loved it,” Palinkas said. “It’s something that kind of went under the radar, but playing first singles, it was a lot of fun. I liked always playing against the top competition everytime out, I just loved it.”
A visual of Palinkas probably suggests bookworm over athletic freak, but looks can be deceiving. On the court, Stuetzer describes him as a player that will fight for every point and refers to his forearm smash as “a weapon.”
His real strength as a player comes in his ability to adjust and adapt to whatever comes his way.
“It was definitely a learning process,” Palinkas said. “It took playing a lot of matches and seeing a lot of different players to develop that. But it also comes back to your going to fight to the end for the point, and in order to do that you have to adapt to have to figure out what is going to give you the most success.”
His success won't stop with high school. He and Nathan are preparing to continue their academic and tennis careers at John Carroll University where they will once again be teamed up on the same side of the net.
“The last four years flew by,” Palinkas said. “But there’s so much to look forward to now also.”
He’ll have a lot to imagine as well.
Here's a look at the first and honorable mention teams.
Player of the Year: Isaac Palinkas, Geneva
• Nathan Palinkas, Geneva, Sr.: The other Palinkas in the three-time state-qualifying duo, he went 8-3 at second singles this season and 22-5 combined with his doubles record. Among his best attributes is his service game and his fighting. According to Stuetzer, he’s a player that “keeps running and running and running to win.”
• Haynes, Sr., St. John: He posted a 23-5 mark and finished second in the county at first singles. Haynes Had 66 individual wins in his St John career and was Co-Most Valuable Player this past season. Coach Todd Nassief describes him as an aggressive player who is not afraid to go for the kill when the opportunity arises.
• DiSalvatore, Soph., St. John: He notched a 25-4 record and is described as a scrappy athletic player. Whether DiSalvatore is able to win a match quickly or if he needs over three hours, he has the determination accomplish the mission.
• Vendetti, Soph., Conneaut: Only a sophomore, he is already a two-time district qualifier. Vendetti built upon his solid freshman season by becoming the first Spartan player to win a match at the district tournament last month. Described by coach Doug Hedrick as “a very cerebral player" that has a lot of heart and desire. He has a strong service game and is tough with his ground strokes.
• Laitinen, Sr., Conneaut: The four-year letter-winner's best asset may be how coachable he is. He was a tough out at the sectional meet, according to his coach, and could have advanced to the district tournament had a few breaks went his way.
Mark Astronskas (Sr.) and Tyler Perkins (Soph.), Geneva: The duo displayed great chemistry all season long. Stuetzer said what made the players really special was their ability to “hold each other up, when they were running into some problems.”
Dan Jackam (Jr.) and John Jackam (Jr.), Geneva: Another set of twins for the Eagles, like the Palinkas boys, these two got along on the court great. It was the second year teaming up and their success has been keyed not only by the amount of hard work they put in, but the way they encourage one another.
Daniel Sheldon (Sr.) and Joey Timonere (Jr.), St. John: Teaming for a second year in a row, the duo went 20-3 at first doubles. Nassief said the two were very comfortable on the court together and able to set each other up for success on a consistent basis.
Dillon Carpenter (Soph.) and Jack Hammers (Soph.), St. John: Nassief said he wasn't even sure who would play second doubles for the Heralds this year, but this pair of sophomores came together and emerged to go 17-4.
Ethan Butcher (Jr.), Jefferson: Falcons coach Lou Murphy said what makes Butcher a success is the work that he puts in, especially during the summer months. He finished with a 12-3 mark and one match shy of making districts this season. With tremendous hand-eye coordination, Butcher should be even stronger next year.
Colin Priestep, Jefferson, singles.
Andrew Hamper, Jefferson, singles.
Joey Varckette, Lakeside, singles.
Jacob Holden and Max Crooks, Edgewood, doubles.