New Albany boys tennis coach Marc Thomas gave a brief speech before handing his players their third-place medals after the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I state tournament May 29.
Although the Eagles finished third, Thomas lauded his players for the two victories it took to reach that point, 3-2 wins over Olentangy Orange in a district semifinal May 10 and against Dublin Jerome in the final 10 days later.
In the latter, New Albany’s first-doubles team of sophomore Ben Bilenko and freshman Abhinav Dandu overcame eight match points and a 5-2 second-set deficit to defeat Jerome’s Tanish Pairu and Max Stratford 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 and clinch the victory.
In the third-place match against Findlay, freshman Jackson Clements took the honors, overcoming an early deficit and cramping to top Austin Asada 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 at second singles for a 3-1 team win.
“The last few weeks with a few guys being sick and overcoming some injuries, to be able to come away with two of the biggest wins of our season at the end … then going to (the individual) state tournament, if I’ d have known this at the beginning of the season, I would’ve been thrilled,” Thomas said. “I’m incredibly proud. It wasn’t always easy. We had a lot of hard-fought matches and some 3-2 wins where we were down on courts.
“We showed the character we have. I couldn’t ask for a much better result.”
On its home courts, New Albany lost 3-0 to eventual champion Cincinnati Sycamore in a semifinal before beatinglay. That capped a weekend that saw senior Declan Freedhoff and Bilenko go 1-1 in doubles at the individual state tournament May 27 at Camargo Racquet Club in Cincinnati.
They defeated Cleveland St. Ignatius’ Michael Nock and Kai Vesikallio 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2 before losing 6-2, 6-4 to eventual state champions Anish Gangavaram and Akshay Joshi from Mason.
Freedhoff, who usually played first singles during the regular season, overcame recent illness to make state. He and Bilenko were at state as a team for the second consecutive year.
“We just both clicked together really well,” Bilenko said. “It works.”
In the OTCA third-place match, Clements ended off cramping in his right leg and seemed to wear down Asada as the match progressed.
“I knew I had to grind through it,” said Clements, who played second singles throughout the year. “This feels good. I’m not even sure we were supposed to win district and we ended up getting third in the state.”
Juniors Dhruv Chavan and Jeremy Hanna are also eligible to return from a team that went 14-2 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division, winning the program’s 14th consecutive league championship.
•After winning the Division I state singles championship a year ago, Gahanna Lincoln junior Brandon Carpico left Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason on May 28 with a runner-up medal.
Carpico finished 36-1, losing to Mason senior Vignesh Gogineni 6-3, 6-2 in the championship match. Carpico’s freshman season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he lost only three matches a year ago.
“Everything (about my game) needs to be a little better and I need to work on the serve a whole lot,” said Carpico, an Ohio State commit. “Overall, it was a good year. I’m playing in five tournaments this summer, so I’m moderately busy, but it’s pretty spaced out.”
Carpico, who beat Gogineni in straight sets to win last year’s title, defeated Northwestern recruit Chad Miller from Sycamore 6-3, 6-3 in a state semifinal.
“(Carpico) made some great shots and some great points (in the state final), but he struggled a little bit with his serve,” coach Chris Schwinnen said. “We knew when he won last year that it was going to be a great (rematch) and I thought they both played well. I was really proud of the way he handled himself. He kept battling. He stayed in it and he kept fighting. He definitely had the tougher road to get to the final than Vignesh, but sometimes the other player plays better and that’s what happened.”
Sophomore Matt Ryan, who played second singles, reached the quarterfinal round at sectional, and freshman Eli Nuss also competed at sectional after playing third singles.
Juniors Eli Bradford and Quinn Smith, sophomore Jackie Graham and freshman Brian Popelka also were key players along with junior Carson Fisher.
Graham played for the girls soccer team last fall and did not play for the girls tennis team, making her eligible to compete this spring.
“I’m really, really happy with the way the players performed this year,” Schwinnen said. “We had some close losses and next year we’ve got some decent eighth-graders coming up.”
•Columbus Academy remained one of the top Division II programs in central Ohio, enjoying success at the state and district levels.
The Vikings qualified three players for the state individual tournament, with freshman Lucas Xue and the doubles team of senior Ryan Panley and freshman Rowen Lo both going 1-1 on May 27.
“To make the quarterfinals of state, that’s a good accomplishment,” coach Marc Wurtzman said. “Just getting there is a good accomplishment. To win a round and be in the mix to try to get to the semifinals (May 28), it was nice to be in that situation. It was a good experience for (the freshmen) to be in that environment.”
The Vikings went 6-0 in the MSL-Ohio to finish first ahead of Bexley (5-1).
The teams split a pair of matches, with Academy winning 3-2 in an MSL-Ohio contest April 7 and the Lions avenging the loss 3-2 in the OTCA district final May 20. Bexley went on to finish third at state.
Academy loses five players to graduation.
“We’ll miss their leadership skills,” Wurtzman said of the seniors. “They did an amazing job molding the younger kids into the team and making them feel welcomed. To see their maturity level go up by their junior and senior year, we’re going to miss that.”
Record: 15-5 overall
MSL-Ohio standings: Academy (6-0), Bexley (5-1), Grandview (3-2), Wellington (2-2), Worthington Christian (2-4), Buckeye Valley (1-4), Whitehall (0-6)
Seniors lost: Sidd Amirneni, Andrew Barren, Ryan Panley, Jake Stouffer and Jaswanth Vandrasi
Key returns: Rowen Lo and Lucas Xue
Record: 9-13 overall
OCC-Ohio standings: New Albany (4-0), Pickerington North (3-1), Gahanna (2-2), Westerville Central (1-3), Grove City (0-4)
Seniors lost: None
Key returns: Eli Bradford, Brandon Carpico, Carson Fisher, Eli Nuss, Brian Popelka, Matt Ryan and Quinn Smith
•Record: 14-2 overall
Seniors lost: Ryan Frederick, Declan Freedhoff, Halen Hamstead and Aryash Nawani
Key returns: Ben Bilenko, Dhruv Chavan, Jackson Clements, Abhinav Dandu and Jeremy Hanna