Rocky River netters look for conference three-peat

Rocky River senior Henry Grierson returns to first singles for the Pirates this year. (West Life file photo)

Varsity Boys Tennis Preview 2013

By Ryan Kaczmarski

Over the past five seasons, the ROCKY RIVER boys tennis team has owned the West Shore Conference, winning conference titles in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 (the Pirates finished second in 2010). But this year the team is filled with many new faces who will need to fill key roles.

The Pirates will be led by returning 2012 OHSAA Division II sectional champion first singles player Henri Grierson. Grierson finished last season as a junior with an overall record of 27-5, and is poised to continue his success through his senior year. Also returning for Rocky River is 2012 WSC third singles champion Garrett Stefani, who compiled a 23-4 last year.

Other key players are senior Jack Harrington; juniors Sean Baxley, Michael Ittu, Ryan McDermott and Bradley Pease; and sophomores Connor Jurs and Christian Kneubel.

“These players are coming off a fine varsity reserve season in 2012,” Pirates head coach Jeff Sinnema said. “They are eager to fill the varsity positions left due to graduation.

“The 2012 season will be a good test for our young athletes,” he added. “Replacing five starters is always difficult but rewarding, since the new players are always eager to display their talents. What is nice is, all but one player are underclassmen.”

BAY will be nipping at the Pirates’ heels for the conference championship this season, with six of last year’s seven starters returning for the Rockets.

The Rockets will be mixing up their lineup this season. Seniors Zach Messina and Tyler Enders, junior Brandon Myers and sophomore Jack Reiss will be battling it out for the top three singles spots, while Enders and fellow seniors Dan Huntley, Elliot Snyder and Carter Cruse and junior Dan Hippler are competing for the two doubles team spots.

“We were very young last year, but still managed a third-place finish in the WSC,” Rockets head coach Dave Peters said. “We return six of seven starters and look to challenge (Rocky) River and Vermilion (this season).

“Although we have good players, we do not have that state-caliber, lockdown player at No. 1.”

LAKEWOOD has moved to the WSC from the Northeast Ohio Conference this season and is looking to make some noise with all but two of last year’s players returning for the conference debut.

“Last year’s senior class won three of four NOC titles and was one of the most successful classes in the past 50 years of Lakewood tennis,” Rangers head coach Chris Johnson said.

The Rangers return three-year letter winner Chris Richardson, a senior, and two-year letter winners Dan Mezin (a senior) and Chris Brinich. They also have back the second doubles team of seniors Matt Carlson and Alex Northrop.

“Chris Richardson is a tenacious and athletic competitor, and will make opponents earn everything they get,” Johnson said. “This will be his 12th varsity letter at Lakewood, making him one of the school’s most decorated athletes. He also excels in golf and ice hockey.

“Chris Brinich is our other key returner, as he has worked harder on his game than anyone else on the team,” he added. “He is our captain and he brings a quiet leadership and sets a good tone for the entire program. Finally, we have junior Colin Lewis coming up from junior varsity and a fine freshman in Frank Figueiredo.”

Johnson is looking forward to playing all the new WSC foes, especially Rocky River, and this year, the Rangers are renewing the longtime rivalry against St. Edward.

“I can count on each team member to give their best each match and to find the opponents’ weakness and attack it,” Johnson stated. “We lack the big hitters, so we will rely on our mental advantage and our competitiveness.”

WESTLAKE is looking to be undefeated Southwestern Conference champions for the fifth straight year, but the Demons will have to do it without four-time state qualifier and 2012 Division I state singles champion Colton Buffington, who is now a freshman at the University of Louisville.

The key returning players are team captain Kevin Wang, Kent Dinchman, Connor Michelich and Cal Craven, who were all district qualifiers last season. Other returning lettermen are Aakash Shah, Ameesh Shah and Kris Shah.

The four newcomers to this year’s squad are Thomas Reusser, Pranay Arora, Cyrus Kharche and Kenan Dinchman.

Westlake will rely on its depth and match experience to stay atop the conference, while the doubles teams begin to work together to form team play and team strategy.

“We are very confident of our leadership, experience and capability,” Demons head coach Jeffery Mannies said.

NORTH OLMSTED is looking to improve upon the 7-11 overall record of 2012, but the Eagles will have to do it without last year’s top doubles player, Shubham Mangla.

“(Mangla) will be tough to replace, but we have many younger doubles players who have had a good first two weeks of practice,” Eagles head coach Matthew Demain said. “We were disappointed by our record in the SWC last year (2-5), but we felt like we finished the season strong and we are looking forward to this year.”

The returning letter winners include seniors Aravind Kalluri, Davesh Chauhan, Tim Donohue and George Botosneanue; junior David Brunner; and sophomore Ernest Olesky. Others who will be challenging for varsity spots are senior Jason McNulty and sophomores Parth Patel and Brad Reinhard.

“So far, Donohue and Brunner have shown the most improvement in practice,” Demain said. “Since we have five returning lettermen, we feel that our experience will help us in some close matches this year.

“I have also been pleased with the junior varsity players from last year,” he added. “They have really worked hard during practice and they are pushing all of the seniors.”

OLMSTED FALLS fields another very young team this season, having lost seven players in 2011 and five players in 2012 to graduation.

“Thankfully, we only have two juniors this year and we have some younger kids moving up from the middle school in the coming years,” Bulldogs head coach Laura Graham said. “We had a great group of guys last year – hard-working and motivated. We lost due to a lack of experience (5-7 overall). Having said that, it was a really great season as the team was loaded with ‘team players.’”

Returning letter winners are juniors Paul Katz and Ryan Bellinger, both of whom played singles and doubles last year.

“This is probably the youngest team I’ve ever had, so we will be challenged by the experienced teams, but these boys want to learn and improve and there is always something to be said about dedication,” Graham said. “We are working on staying consistent and looking forward to our season.”

FAIRVIEW had a record of 14-6 last year, playing an independent schedule. The Warriors will be replacing six of the seven starters from 2012, two of whom advanced to the second round of districts.

The lone returning letterman for the Warriors is Davey Cajka, who will serve as captain.

“He played first doubles last year, but might play some singles this year,” Fairview head coach Eric Korey said. “The rest of the squad will be new to varsity, and a couple are new to tennis.”

With what will be seen as a rebuilding year, Korey is not going to stress certain matches.

“We will play hard every match and look to improve every day.”

The rest of the roster consists of seniors Matt Fagan, Zach Jones, Brian Arnold and Connor Kiesner; juniors Alex Hobt and Mike DeRosa; sophomores Grant Hom and Milan Janca; and freshmen Matt Hom, Jimmy Smith, Evan Yarian, Anthony Weiss and Ben Winklemann.

“As always, we have high-character athletes on our team,” Korey said. “We try to promote the game of tennis in a competitive and positive way every time we step onto the courts.”


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