LEXINGTON – They are more than just doubles partners. Jay Harris and Nate Jones are tennis professionals who appreciate the job Ron Schaub did putting together the men’s field for the 82nd News Journal/Richland Bank Tournament.
Schaub had to work around job, time and travel commitments and gauge the interest level of players who may be transitioning from high school to college or from college to the job sector — a period when kicking back during the summer might seem more appealing than picking up a racket.
Life constantly changes, but one thing doesn’t — Schaub’s ability to put together a top-flight draw, especially in the marquee event: men’s singles.
“There’s a common bond we all feel,” said Jones, who comes home each summer for the tourney from Dayton where he is a teaching pro at the Kettering Tennis Center. “There is such a large gap (in age) between the players, but we all grew up watching each other and it’s nice having that connection we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Harris, 43, and Jones, 29, are defending champs in men’s doubles and will be playing for a repeat title Sunday afternoon at Lakewood Racquet Club against Alex “Bones” McCann and Jake Youse.
Harris is also bidding for a seventh men’s singles title after reaching Sunday afternoon’s semis with a 6-2, 6-0 win over former Madison star Austen Hammett.
It will be Harris against McCann, the 2009 champ, in one semifinal of Lexington alums and two-time defending champ Mason Dragos against the winner of Sunday’s resumption of a quarterfinal match between Youse, a Lex grad, and Rev. Jeremy Miller, the associate pastor at St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Youse was leading Miller 7-6 (8-6), 1-1 late Saturday afternoon when Miller had to leave to lead Mass.
Those two twice traded three-point runs in the tiebreaker before Youse clinched the set.
“I’m always impressed by him,” Youse said of Miller, who was a 2002 state singles champ for Sandusky St. Mary and played No. 1 at Xavier University. “He’s a clever counterpuncher who absorbs pace and is able to hit surprising winners from his pocket. He’s very good a taking the ball on the rise.”
Youse played collegiately for Haverford (Pa.) College last fall but has transferred to Kenyon, where his younger brother Matt also is headed. Both played an instrumental role in Lexington winning a state title two years ago, but right now neither is planning to play for Kenyon.
“I’ll play tennis my entire life,” Jake Youse said. “I didn’t get burned out. I conformed my level of commitment to tennis to my present academic circumstances. It’s not so much symptomatic to some sudden loss of passion for tennis.”
While Matt will study film in college, Jake is an English literature major.
“I wanted to be a poet, but I’ll probably become a rapper,” Jake said, trying to keep a straight face. “There’s so much more money in it.”
Matt and his partner, Kyle Miller, took second with their entry in a national silent film festival two years ago, so there’s another side to him that has nothing to do with hitting a fuzzy ball.
“I’ve always got this tournament,” he said about focusing on his career path in college. “Tennis is my funnest passion … and the least frustrating.”
Matt Youse was ousted in Saturday’s quarters by McCann 6-2, 6-0, who can still hammer away with the best of them even though he’s now 28 and can’t devote as much time to the sport. He works in the safety department for Shelly & Sands, a general contractor in Columbus.
Coming back to play in the News Journal is a summer ritual for him.
“It just goes to show what Ron (Schaub) has done for everybody; we just want to support him and have a good time,” McCann said. “You get to see old teammates, friends and the new players coming in.”
After a 10-year hiatus, Harris started playing the tournament again in 2013. The tall lefty comes in from Long Island where he is regional manager for Sportime athletic clubs and on the staff of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy.
Harris won the last of his six men’s singles titles in 2002 before coaching college tennis and helping to raise a family kept him away from the tournament. He’s been in the middle of the hunt for a title ever since coming back.
“It’s so cool to come back and feel that connection to my youth,” said Harris, who turns 44 in a couple of weeks. “This is the first tournament I played, when I was 11, and it’s the first tournament I ever won (that same year).”
On Friday night, Harris won mixed doubles with Alex Griebling, the niece of Katie (McCumiskey) Orlando, whom he won multiple titles with — the first in 1988.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Harris said of the talent Schaub assembles each year. “I wish we could all work together to get even more guys back, especially with Ron doing an amazing job with the Lex (high school) athletic program.
“This (tournament) is such an amazing tradition. Ron does such an amazing job that I’d like to see even more area alumni come back.”
Nicky Wong, who reached the finals each of the last three years and won the title in 2012 by beating Dragos, is sitting this one out after recently completing a successful college career at Toledo. He’s getting ready to open his own car lot just up the road from Lakewood.
“Nicky’s had so much success in college and now he’s working, and that’s a change,” Schaub said, disappointed he couldn’t reel him in. “So I can see that side.”
Dragos admitted to going four weeks this summer without picking up a racket, but that, too, is understandable after the swirl of emotions he’s experienced — accidentally getting shot in the chest in March and bouncing back 11 weeks later to win a state singles championship for Lex .
Dragos beat Schaub, the 1985 men’s champ, 6-1, 6-4 in Saturday’s quarters.
“I try to do some of what Ron does here at our club, helping some of the kids find (colleges),” Jones said. “But that’s such a big place; I don’t think it will ever have the feel of this place. I probably spent more time here than I did at home.”
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