It’s a good thing there isn’t a 20-hour practice limit in high school tennis like there is in college sports. Otherwise, Tom Pawsey’s Ontario Warriors would be on NCAA probation.
Working OT is the MO of a thriving Ontario boys tennis program that was on life support before Pawsey took over in 2011.
Thirty minutes after the Division II sectional tournament wrapped up Saturday afternoon, Ontario’s Christian Zupan and Tyler Wilson were still on the Shelby High School courts, playing practice sets.
Zupan and Wilson, who gave up a part-time job this spring to be part of the team, weren’t among the three Ontario players to advance to the district meet at Bowling Green next Thursday. They simply wanted to get in more work prior to Monday’s district quarterfinal match against Lima Shawnee in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association state team tournament.
“You caught us!” joked Pawsey about his boys staying, so to speak, after class. “It’s called hooked on tennis.”
Even after two days of sectional play, Pawsey scheduled an “optional” Saturday night practice at Marshall Park for his Warriors, who went unbeaten in duals and tournament play en route to an undisputed North Central Conference title this season.
“I’m giving them Sunday off because it’s ‘family day’ and we’re serious about it,” Pawsey said, “but they’ll probably sneak out to the courts anyway.”
State power Lexington advanced six of its seven players to BG, while Ontario is sending the same trio of Brandon Wagner and brothers Jacob and Seth Byrd as last year.
The new twist is that Wagner played doubles this year with Jacob after pairing up with Seth last year.
After playing No. 1 and 2 singles, respectively, all season, Jacob Byrd and Wagner opted to see how far they could get as a tandem. They lost in Saturday’s semis 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 to Lex brothers Matt and Tommy Barkett but rebounded to beat Willard siblings Corey and Brandon Bohach in straight sets for third place.
Seth Byrd, who played doubles all season, took fourth in singles, falling to Lex’s All-Ohioan Mason Dragos in the semis and then 6-2, 6-4 to Lex’s Jansen Webster in the consolation finals. The top four placers in both singles and doubles earned district berths.
“Those three are diehard to the core,” Pawsey said of the Byrds and Wagner. “Their middle names should be ‘Resilience.’ “
It was a good day for Ontario, but another great day for Lex. Dragos lost only one game the entire tournament in winning his first sectional title. He was beaten in last year’s finals by teammate Jake Youse, but turned around to beat Youse in the district finals.
“I’m pretty set; I’m feeling pretty good,” said Dragos after his 6-0, 6-0 win in Saturday’s finals over St. Peter’s Phil Zitko. “My serve has been lights out.”
This spring, Youse opted to finish his career by playing doubles with his younger brother, Matt. They didn’t lose a game in the sectionals, finishing off their title run with a win over the Barketts.
“We had some chances to get a couple of games, but the odds of beating (the Youses) was one in 100,” Matt Barkett said. “They’re playing well. They have a chance to make a deep run at state.
“If me and Tommy play well, I think we can make it (to state), too.”
With the Youses and Barketts pairing up, Lex’s usual No. 2 doubles team of Webster and Santi Acero split up and played singles, occupying the spots usually filled by the Youses.
Webster made the most of the opportunity, taking third by avenging a loss to Seth Byrd in last summer’s News Journal tournament.
“I’ve just been playing well,” Webster said. “Last summer when I lost in the News Journal I was playing a lot of basketball. Today I was just ‘on.’ “
Zitko, a St. Peter’s junior who played doubles last year, lost 6-0, 6-0 in the finals to Dragos. But, overall, he went 2-1 against Lex, beating Acero 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in the second round and Webster 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 in the semis.
Zitko started the season at No. 2 singles, but ended up at No. 1.
“I started making smarter decisions and I guess I elevated my game by playing harder and harder guys,” Zitko said. “Coach (Frank Gordon) beefed up our schedule, so I saw some tougher opponents.”
Which helped him this weekend against a Lex gauntlet.
“The No. 1 thing was being consistent,” he said. “If you let up at any time, they’ll take advantage so quick. That’s what happened in the second set (against Acero and Webster).”
Facing Dragos would be a tough draw for just about anyone. He proved himself to be one of the best freshmen in Ohio last year by reaching the quarterfinals in the OHSAA state tournament and knocking off state medalist and fellow freshman Asher Hirsch of Cincinnati Country Day in leading Lex to a runner-up finish in the OTCA state tournament.
“It’s nice to see the potential of what you’ll be facing (at districts),” Zitko said. “Even though I lost (to Dragos), I learned a ton about how to hit different shots I’m not used to seeing.”
Given the lack of veteran talent on his team, Willard coach Chris Long was happy to see the Bohachs advance in doubles.
Corey Bohach is the Flashes’ only senior and six of the l1 boys on the team had never played until this season. Brandon Bohach is a freshman.
“I know (Corey and Brandon) are hurting, but it doesn’t diminish what they’ve accomplished,” Long said. “They won three matches and beat the third-seeded team (from Shelby). I told them there were no easy matches, starting (Saturday).
“Let’s face facts. We’re in a spot where if we go north we run into Norwalk or (Sandusky) Perkins and if we come down this way Lex is the measuring stick. You can say all (the Lex kids) do is play tennis and that they should be good, but that’s no disrespect to them. They’ve spent their lifetimes playing the sport and it shows.”