By Dave Mast
The Kidron Central Christian Comets tennis team has seen what it takes to make it to the precipice of a league title.
Thanks to graduation, they may have to learn it all over again.
Central is coming off of a fantastic season last year that saw the Comets creep right to the brink of capturing a Northeast Tennis Conference championship, just missing a title as it fell to Chippewa High School in a tight battle.
However, the Comets must now find a way to recover from the loss of a trio of singles players who were longtime lynch pins in the Central Christian tennis program.
Gone to graduation are Luke Mullet, Curtis Yovichin and Gabe Raber, who played first-to-third singles respectively for the Comets last year. That group went 13-2 and was 6-1 in the NET.
This year, the Comets must replace that group, and it will all begin with the replacement at the very top in a new head coach. Gone is longtime coach Nate Holder, and in his place steps the Central girls longtime coach Gene Lehman.
The Comets took a step in the right direction in their season opener, outlasting West Holmes 3-2 on the courts in Kidron. Knights two-time state qualifier Ethan Meyer stood tall at first singles, belting out a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Alexander Seymour; however, following that quick match, Central took the next three to grab the victory. At second singles, Micah Mullet and West Holmes’ Eric Biltz waged a spirited and athletic match, which Mullet won 6-2, 6-4. At third singles, Eliot Bowen took down Madison Cox in a good match, the Comets senior defeating Cox 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. At second singles, Reed Yoder and Jordan Tscheigs upended West Holmes’ duo of Taylor Vecchio and Garrett Gallion 6-3, 6-0.
The evening’s toughest battle came at first singles, where Knights’ John Hipp and Megan Morrison battled Central’s sophomore combination of Kyle Miller and Daniel Schlabach. In a back-and-forth match, Central took the first match 6-4, dropped the second one 6-3, which sent the more than 2½-hour match into a decisive third set, where West Holmes fought back from a 5-4 deficit to claim a 7-5 victory.
“Not bad, overall,” said Lehman of his team’s effort. “We are going to find out very quickly how well these players can adjust from playing doubles last year to the singles life this year. We’ve got a lot of matches early on, so we don’t have a lot of time to make that adjustment. They’ve got some big shoes to fill, but they are all learning, and these kids all love to play the game, which will help them adjust.”
All four of the double players for Central were junior varsity players last year, so they too will have to adjust to the better competition and faster play of the varsity game.
“These boys’ games are pretty new to me since I didn’t coach them last year,” Lehman said. ‘These seven guys are going to be our seven varsity players. I don’t know if they will end the season in this order or not. But I do think they will work hard.”
For West Holmes, the return of Meyer gives them a big gun up top, but much like the Comets, they too will be figuring how the pieces fit together as the year progresses.
“Our two and three didn’t play the way they are capable of playing tonight, and that hurt us,” West Holmes coach Jason Otto said.
On this night, Otto was missing Jason Abraham and Nathan Hartley, two players who will eventually factor into the mix at doubles play, both of whom played doubles last season at the varsity level.
Gone for the Knights to graduation are Meyer’s state doubles partner Andrew Rodhe and doubles player Cameron Mathie.
Otto was excited about the play of Morrison, a first-year player who is athletic but has to figure out how to play the game.
“I’m pretty pleased with the way our second doubles team hung in there and fought back after dropping that first set,” said Otto of Hipp and Morrison. “I think Megan could become very good at this game if she worked at it. She runs cross country in the fall, which is when our girls season is, but she definitely has some talent here. She is a nice athlete.”
So early in the season, both coaches are learning a great deal about their talent, and both will have plenty of opportunities to figure out how their teams best fit together.
“We’ve just got to learn how to work a little bit harder and make a commitment to this game,” Otto said.
That is something both teams will be watching closely this season. But on opening night, the Comets soared past the Knights, although they will have had another opportunity to get together at the Hiland Tennis Invitational Saturday, April 2.