It will be difficult for Clay, or any other City League boys’ tennis team, to overcome the talent St. John's Jesuit will put on the court this spring.
But veteran Eagles coach Walt Ralph said his squad has enough talent to be a fly in the ointment for the league's other top teams.
"St. John's is going to be pretty dominant, not only in our league but other people are looking at them as a state power," Ralph said. "We can match up well with Central Catholic and even St. Francis this year. It could be pretty interesting."
Clay, which won 12 matches and took third in the CL behind St. John's and St. Francis a year ago, is off to a good start this season. The Eagles lost to Perrysburg 5-0 but have beaten Start, Whitmer and Waite by 5-0 scores.
Senior first singles player Matt Swaim leads the way for the Eagles. Swaim is in his fourth season on the varsity and is in his second year playing at No. 1. The captain placed fifth in the league last season.
"I'm really impressed with Matt this year," Ralph said. "He's kind of embraced his talents as a player. He has a good all-round game and he's a tremendous athlete, and he can move around the court real well. He is using that to his advantage this year.
"Last year the jump to first singles (from No. 3) caused him to think he had to win matches with a power game and win quick points. This year he's gone back to what he's good at - staying steady on the court, moving well and playing smart points. He's a good leader as well."
Lance Okey, a junior who was on the junior varsity team a year ago, has moved into the No. 2 singles slot and has won three of his first four matches.
"He doesn't have the same tennis polish as Matt, but he is a good athlete and has terrific feet," Ralph said. "We're getting him to move around the court, and the longer the points go, the more advantage it is to him."
Sophomore Ryan Nelson, who had no varsity experience prior to this season, also won three of his first four matches at third singles this season.
"He's looked great," Ralph said. "He's exciting and he's a great athlete. This is the most athletic singles group I've had in some time. Ryan is able to play some short angles well and even come into the net and volley well. He has a good knack for how to win a point."
Andrew Gale, who played second doubles last season, is teaming with fellow junior Colton Plumb at No. 1 doubles this year.
"They are the prototypical strong doubles players," Ralph said. "They both hit kick serves and have a real strong net presence. They seem to really mesh well together. Andrew was our most experienced doubles player and I had him play with a few partners in the preseason, and it looked like this is the most comfortable match for him."
The Eagles are still sorting through the No. 2 doubles slot. Senior twins Michael and Jason Mai are new to varsity tennis, and both have been paired with senior Michael Ward early this season.
Michael Mai and Ward are 2-0 playing together, while Ward and Jason Mai were 1-1 at second doubles through Tuesday.
"I'm content to keep running them out there for the next couple weeks," Ralph said. "The brothers have a good chemistry together. They're good net players and they have a good emotional temperament. Michael Ward plays with a little more power, so that might be a good combination. He hits a stronger serve and a stronger serve return, and he might pair up well