The Press Newspaper
This year’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference boys’ tennis title will still go through St. John’s Jesuit, or perhaps Findlay, but 17th-year Clay coach Walt Ralph has a good feeling about his Eagles.
“The strength and depth we have with a senior-laden team, we’re going to give it our best shot,” Ralph said. “Last year we finished third behind St. John’s and Findlay. I’d like to think we could at least match that this year. It will be exciting to see how we match up with Findlay, and when St. Francis comes around.”
The Eagles, who traveled to Findlay on Thursday, improved to 3-2 and 1-1 in the TRAC on Tuesday with a 5-0 win over Lima Senior. Clay’s other wins have come against Ottawa Hills and Oak Harbor, and they lost to Perrysburg and St. John’s Jesuit
Nearly the Eagles’ entire starting lineup consists of seniors, including No. 1 singles player James DeMeo, who is 3-2 so far after taking fourth at last year’s TRAC tournament.
“He’s looked great,” Ralph said. “He’s a real competitive kid. He’s got terrific feet and he’s had instincts to the ball since he was freshman. Now he has enough experience to be able to incorporate some more offensive strokes in his game. James is the best tennis player I’ve had as a coach. He’s got a lot of tools.”
The Eagles lost three starters from last year’s squad. Third singles player Alex Karoly graduated along with the first doubles team of Cody Wisniewski and Hayden Hyndman.
This year’s third singles slot has been manned by the combination of junior Jared Lutz, who is 1-2, and sophomore Blaze Okey (1-1).
“Jared is a steadier, more traditional third singles style of player,” Ralph said. “He’s steady and consistent and can play long points and keep the ball in play from the baseline. Blaze’s older brother (Lance) played for me a few years ago. Blaze is a ball striker. He hits more traditional tennis strokes and hits the ball with some pace. The challenge with him is to develop some consistency and play with a strategy in mind. We’re definitely excited about what he’s going to become.”
Clay’s No. 1 doubles team consists of seniors Eric Brown and Clay Vincent. Those two, who played together at second doubles and advanced to the district tournament a year ago, are 4-1 this season.
“They both have really worked on all facets of their game,” Ralph said. “We really stress volleying, and they’re really strong net players. They are incorporating some serve-and-volley into their game this year.”
Ralph has used several different combinations at No. 2 doubles, including the tandem of Danny Klorer and Anthony Csizek.
“Danny has worked really hard at his game,” Ralph said. “He has worked hard since his freshman year and improved each year. He’s a steadying veteran influence on that second doubles team. He stays positive and keeps his partner positive. Anthony is a good all-around athlete and a hockey player by trade. He’s real steady and allows his partner to go to work at the net.”
Ralph added that senior Todd Klewer, who returns at No. 2 singles, has worked on his consistency on the court.
“Todd hits the ball with a lot of pace, off his serve and his groundstrokes,” the coach said. “He’s able to maintain that consistency a lot better this year, which puts pressure on his opponent. He has incorporated a better net game, where he can hit some shots and follow it up and win some points at the net. Last year I would cringe when he came to the net. It’s a different story this year.”