PATASKALA – D.J. Davis has a bit of a love-hate relationship with tennis.
“When you first start as a freshman, you feel like you are never, ever, ever going to be good at this game,” Davis said. “The truth is you are never as good as you want to be. You are just pretty decent at it really.”
Davis has stuck with the sport and is a part of a big senior class that has helped set the tone for the future. The Warriors finished the regular season earlier this week and are playing in the Division I sectional tournament Thursday at Pickerington Central.
This year’s seniors have seen the program through a bit of a transition period. With Watkins leaving the Ohio Capital Conference, the schedule has been in flux the past two seasons, coach Shawn Walter moved to the girls program, opening up the head coaching job for Nathan Burd before the 2014 season and the beginning of a middle school program suggests future Warriors will not have such a steep learning curve as many Warriors before them did.
“With two freshmen already on varsity, I could see this program going really far, really fast,” senior Zach Greenlee said. “The only problem is we are a little short on players. We need some more.”
Greenlee was referring to his partner Braden Clear at No. 2 doubles, and Clear’s twin brother Bryce Clear, who played this season at No. 3 singles. The rest of the varsity roster is a collection of seniors and junior Robert Speaks, who has been paired with Davis at No. 1 doubles.
Greenlee said being thrust into a leadership role as a senior was not a major change for him. He always has tried to lead by example even as he worked his way up through the reserve team.
“It’s something I guess I always really had,” Greenlee said. “I was always focused on doing my best and trying as hard as I could.”
The Clear family will have been a part of Watkins tennis for more than a decade by the time the twins graduate. Senior Derek Clear, who is the Warriors’ No. 1 singles player, already has followed in the footsteps of older brother Dylan.
“It’s pretty cool being another guide for my little brothers,” Clear said. “They are freshmen on varsity, so I think they will be really successful. … I want to do what (Dylan) did.”
Watkins had a strong showing in the postseason in 2014 with Derek Clear and the doubles team of Greenlee and Andrew Lyons each making the sectional quarterfinals, and the Warriors would like to build on it this weekend.
With a first-round victory, Derek Clear might match up with Newark’s Collin Brown. Brown won the pair’s regular-season meeting, but the third and deciding set was simply played as a tiebreaker.
Regardless of when this season ends, the Watkins seniors can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. They took a challenge four years ago and have helped the program continue its climb — even if the sport hits back on occasion.
“I have watched other kids come in, and I say, ‘Yeah, I used to do exactly what you did. I actually used to be worse at it,’” Davis said.