The Press Newspaper
Since leaving the Great Lakes League for the Toledo City League beginning with the 2003-2004 school year, Clay's boys tennis team had never beaten St. Francis de Sales in a head-to-head match.
That drought is over.
In their second match this season, the Eagles notched a 3-2 win over the Knights behind victories at third singles and on both doubles courts. Senior Lance Okey won in singles, while the No. 1 doubles team of senior Colton Plumb and junior Dustin Wooddell and the No. 2 team of freshman James DeMeo and sophomore Cody Wisniewski both earned victories.
“It was exciting,” said Clay's 14th-year coach, Walt Ralph. “Central Catholic is a good rival of ours, and we always go into a season with the idea that we could beat St. Francis. We just played loose and went after it, and good things happened.”
The Eagles look to unseat St. Francis at this year's CL tournament. St. John's, the defending league tourney champion, beat Clay in the first match this season.
“It looks like they're going to be one of the better teams in the state of Ohio,” said Ralph, whose team has also lost to Perrysburg and beaten Waite and Maumee.
The Eagles' key loss from last season is first-team all-league first singles player Matt Swaim, who is now playing NCAA Division III tennis.
Swaim's position at No. 1 singles is now manned by Andrew Gale. The senior took third in the CL at first doubles a year ago.
“Andrew had a personal goal at the end of last year that he wanted to take that spot,” Ralph said. “He worked his butt off all winter and he played every chance he could over the summer. He took it on his shoulders to accomplish that goal for himself.”
Gale has been pushed for the starting nod at first singles by junior Ryan Nelson, who is playing No. 2 singles.
“We have four players who are all similar in ability and kind of push each other,” Ralph said. “In a way that's good for us, but it's a fine line. That really helped us that Andrew got pushed by Ryan Nelson. Andrew has a big serve and he rallies from the baseline well. He just kind of overpowers opponents with topspin and a pretty big serve.”
Nelson was Clay's No. 3 singles player last season and placed third at the league tournament.
“Ryan is a real well-balanced, all court-type player,” Ralph said. “He keeps a real level head about himself and he floats around the court nicely. His footwork is a strength and he has a nice touch at the net.”
Okey, who got the big win over St. Francis, played some at second singles last year before he injured his hand a couple weeks into the season. He then moved to No. 1 doubles.
“Lance is a pure athlete and he has tremendous quickness to the ball and stamina,” Ralph said. “He can play those long third singles-type games. If he plays with the right mindset - in a defensive, scrappy mindset - he plays well. When he tries to be an aggressive, offensive-minded player, he tends to hit into a lot of unforced errors.”
At No. 1 doubles, Plumb and Wooddell have proved to make a solid tandem. Plumb played first doubles and No. 2 singles last year.
“I really like that first doubles team,” Ralph said. “Colton is a pure doubles player. He hits a pretty consistent kick serve that works well in doubles, and he has really good instincts at the net. And, he approaches well. Dustin complements him well. He has a real steady backhand return, maybe one of the better backhand returns on the team.”
DeMeo will likely pair with sophomore Alex Karoly at second doubles the rest of the season.
“James is a pure athlete and real quick to the ball,” Ralph said. “For a freshman, he is remarkably consistent. He doesn't hit himself into errors very often. Alex has traditional tennis strokes, forehand and backhand. He doesn't have the foot speed or quickness of DeMeo, but he's more polished in his tennis strokes.”
Ralph added that the Eagles' goal is to win the rest of their league matches and peak by the time the league tournament rolls around.
“St. Francis is going to come into that tournament with designs of winning back that spot we got from them,” the coach said. “We want to prepare ourselves mentally for a pretty exciting end-of-the-year tournament. We'd like to try to keep building our younger teams. We have a pretty extensive jayvee team - we have 26 guys on our roster and we consider 13 as reserves – and some of them are pretty good athletes.
“Our goal is to try to build some depth to our program, so that year in and year our we can reload and not start from scratch.”
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