LEXINGTON – They will be gunning for a four-peat. As well as a three-peat.
In a world where Ron Schaub’s Lexington boys tennis team has, with rare exception, ruled the Ohio Cardinal Conference since its inception in the 2003-04 school year, a three-peat by the Minutemen might actually be more impressive.
Overwhelming favorites to win a fourth-straight OCC crown and 15th in 18 years, Lex has the kind of stacked lineup that could pull off perfection for a third straight spring.
Perfection, in this case, means sweeping every OCC dual match and then all five brackets in the league tournament.
Last year the Minutemen never lost a court during dual play, winning every league match 5-0 before going 5-0 in the tournament to finish an immaculate season with 60 points, the most a team can accumulate in one year.
Ashland won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017, but the only thing that has been able to stop Lex since then is COVID. The pandemic wiped out spring sports in 2020, ruining what could have been a memorable senior season for two-time OCC Player of the Year Benton Drake and twins Blake and Brent Webster.
Tommy Secrist, the reigning OCC Player of the Year, was a sophomore in 2020 when that season was canceled. So were Ryan Mecurio, Ross Drlik and Evan Matney.
Now those four are seniors, looking to enjoy the kind of final season their former teammates were denied.
“I feel like last year we owed it to those (2020) seniors to do our best,” Secrist said. “We wanted to show Benton, Blake and Brent how good we could play.”
Exceptionally good, as it turns out.
Secrist won No. 1 singles in the 2021 OCC tournament, while Mecurio and Drlik collaborated to win No. 1 doubles. Freshmen Karl Etzel and Ethan Remy won No. 2 and 3 singles, respectively, and sophomores Jake Chilcote and Joseph Litao won No. 2 doubles.
Now the challenge is improving on perfection. It’s entirely possible with last year’s lineup intact except for the loss of Litao, who transferred to Ontario, where his family lives.
In Litao’s place, Lex will plug in freshmen Dylan Cantanese and Owen Gongwer. Matney, who won an OCC title at No. 2 doubles in 2019, adds to the team depth, with Carter Wallace, Harrison Hamilton, Cody Faust, Jacob Halfhill and Trevor Mecurio rounding out the roster.
With Lex expected to steamroll through the OCC again, it’s really about the bigger picture. Last year, Mecurio and Drlik earned first team All-Ohio honors in doubles by finishing fourth in Division II at the OHSAA individual state tournament after winning a district championship. Remy and Etzel won a sectional title – beating Mecurio and Drlik – and went on to make second team All-Ohio by reaching the state quarterfinals in doubles. Secrist was one win away from going to state in singles.
The Minutemen capped their season by finishing fourth in Division II in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament. They lost 3-2 to Indian Hill in the semifinals and 3-2 in the third place match to Columbus Academy.
Pepper Pike Orange won the title and is ranked No. 1 in the state again this year, thanks to a veteran team led by OHSAA singles runner-up Ben Pomeranets and Chika Nwaozuzu, part of the title-winning doubles team in the OHSAA tourney.
“Our goal is to finish at least third and top last year’s finish,” Secrist said. “I think (the key) is just to be consistent. I have faith it will be like that again for us this year. “
Schaub started pointing to this season years ago when some of the younger players on this year’s varsity were coming up through the juniors ranks. He knew Secrist, Mecurio and Drlik would be match-tested seniors and that Etzel and Remy would have a year of varsity tennis under their belts.
Chilcote was kind of an unknown until last year when he won an OCC title and reached districts in singles. He spent his junior high years playing baseball.
“I played tennis when I was younger, but didn’t play from seventh grade until my sophomore year,” he said. “I thought I could make varsity. I read a lot of articles about the tennis team and thought, ‘That could have been me. Why did I ever quit? I couldn’t find a reason why I wasn’t playing. ‘”
Many times, Lex puts some of its strongest singles players together to play doubles in the post-season. But Mecurio and Drlik had extensive experience together last season, going 19-4, and that paid off with them becoming the first Lex tandem to earn first team all-state since Drew Boleky and Josh Adam in the early 2000s.
“I only played one singles match all year,” Drlik said. “Ryan and I got together in practice, so, OK, if we can do it in practice we can do it in matches. It was just for fun at first, but then it got serious.
“He’s really aggressive; really strong. He’s at the net, putting everything away, but if he doesn’t do it, I’m pretty fast and he can go get (the ball). “
Mecurio, who will play in college for NCAA Division II Cedarville, said finesse is not their forte.
“Our serves and forehands are both big and we put the ball away a lot,” he said. “Our favorite thing is to get the ball in the air and smack and put it away. We have a lot of fun. “
Like Mecurio, Secrist’s college plans are already set. He will major in music and play tennis at Capital.
“I started taking a lot better care of my body and allotting my time and energy to certain things,” Secrist said. “I’m just focused on music and tennis because that’s what’s going to take me to college.”
Schaub, whose team is off to a 2-0 start with wins over Maumee and Massillon Jackson, has seen a new level of commitment from the team’s unspoken leader.
“Tommy is way better than last year, playing like crazy. He doesn’t take any days off, ”he said. “If you’re going to play in college, you want to do well that last year in high school. Ryan and Ross are coming off first team All-Ohio, and Ethan, Karl and Dylan played a lot of USTA tournaments during the off-season.
“We’re pretty good, man. This team wants to try and win a state championship. “
Here’s a look at other area schools that responded to the News Journal’s request for team information:
Injuries crippled the Arrows last year and led to an uncharacteristic middle-of-the-pack finish in the OCC. But the silver lining is that this year’s No. 1 and 2 singles players, junior Cooper Glazier and sophomore Ben Sinchok, got much needed experience filling it at the top of last year’s lineup.
Glazier made it to districts in singles when No. 1 player Ryan Frazee was sidelined by injuries.
Other returnees are sophomores Reid Wash (No. 3 singles) and Landon Davis (No. 2 doubles) and seniors Caedon Blough and Seth Karnosh (No. 1 doubles).
“We have six returnees, so I have confidence that those guys will compete at their spots, know their roles, and do well for us,” coach Taylor Long said. “We only have three upperclassmen, so it will be a goal of mine all season to develop these young players and get them in positions where they can succeed.
“Last year we switched our lineup around a lot. This year we have more things locked in place and will rely on our senior leadership from Caedon and Seth to compete with the top teams in the conference. “
First-year coach Tom Hill inherits a team looking to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish in the OCC.
Anchoring the lineup is CJ Steffey at No. 1 singles. He’s joined by lettermen Nate Phillips (No. 2 singles), Xavier Ethel (No. 1 and 2 doubles), John Keough (No. 1 doubles) and Anthony Parnell (No. 3 singles). Albrey Price is a newcomer projected to compete for playing time at No. 3 singles.
This is Phillips’ fourth year with the program.
“We’re looking to improve in fundamentals and team effort,” Hill said. “I like the work ethic in practice. The kids have a desire to learn and get better. “
The Tigers, under coach Tom Pawsey, are coming off a 15-2 season – the best in the program since 1992 – and a championship in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament. They also finished second in league duals (10-2) to Marion Pleasant (11-1).
Leading the way are seniors Matt Gimbel and Jamie Hollis, both first team all-league last season. The other seniors are John Evans and Missy Vanhoupe.
Juniors are Nate Barre, Jaxon Oehler, Adam Geiger, Caden Jutz, Nick McMullin and Gavin Grimm. Sophomores are Luke Tinnermeier and Haden Kaple, with freshmen Jack Johnson and Craig Geiger rounding out the roster.
“We’re hopeful for a good season with eight returning players and six new players,” Pawsey said. “I see us continuing to be good competitors in the MOAC. The team has a great attitude and they continually demonstrate good use of their ability. “
Coaches Cary Carcione, Luke Webster and Ty Carcione welcome back 11 lettermen, with senior leadership provided by Nate Reid (No. 3 singles), Aiden Frankhouse (doubles) and Nate Judson (doubles).
Juniors providing experience includes Lance Miller (No. 2 and 3 singles), Hunter Petit (doubles), Brody Phillips (No. 1 doubles), Pablo Sanchez (rotating between No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles), Eli Selser (No . 1 and 2 singles) and JT Visconti.
Sophomores in the mix includes Alex Ellis (No. 3 singles, doubles), Roberto Espinosa (doubles) and Canaan Wentz (No. 3 singles).
“During the beginning of the season, we were able to practice every night either at our home courts in Marshall Park, at school conditioning, or at Lakewood Racquet Club during bad weather,” Cary Carcione said. “We are coming together as a team with great cohesiveness.
“We’re deep, so we should be able to rotate at least 10 players into varsity matches. I expect to compete for (an MOAC) championship. With three seniors, our experience and level of play will be a surprise to our competition. “
The Colts only won four matches last season, but already have one victory in the bag with a season-opening 3-2 win over Madison.
Senior Jackson McLaughlin, a second team All-MOAC pick last season, collaborated with junior Griffin Blakely to win in straight sets at No. 1 doubles. The Colts made it a sweep in doubles, with sophomore Alaina Gandee and junior Zachary Hotz bouncing back from dropping the first set 6-4 to win the next 12 games for the win at No. 2.
Clear Fork’s other point came from junior Josiah Bailey at No. 2 singles. Filling out the lineup were senior Ryan Peterson at No. 1 singles and senior Jeffrey Moody at No. 3 singles.