Drew Staken should have been playing some number-three singles in the opening round of the East District sectional tournament at Dover Park on Monday, May 6.
As Hiland’s number-one singles player, he narrowly missed being one of the top-four seeds, so a date with a far inferior player should have been on the docket.
However, thanks to a cruel and unusual set of circumstances completely out of his or anyone else’s control, Staken found himself playing Lukas Wain, Buckeye Local’s number-one singles player. Heck, Wain is Buckeye Local’s only player, period.
Because Wain has no team and can’t compete in team dual matches or tournaments throughout the season, he was a little known commodity coming into the tournament. Everyone knew he had a decent game, but with no track record to speak of, he was a bit of a conundrum.
Add to the equation the fact that he had no representation at the drawing, and Wain was put as the last seed, meaning he would get placed wherever nobody else wanted to dive into in the first round.
That was right next to Staken, which basically meant what were probably the fifth and sixth seeds would be playing each other in the opening round.
That resulted in a spirited first-round match-up that saw two very good tennis players laying it on the line in hopes of advancing to round two.
After dropping the first close set, Staken responded by taking the second in equally close fashion. That set the stage for the final third set that would determine the winner, and in a gutsy effort by both players, a few balls went Wain’s way, and the talented freshman would post a 6-4 win in the third set to claim the match and advance.
“It was unfortunate, but in the end I think you just have to put it all behind you and come out and play,” Buckeye Local coach Matt Kidd said. “Lukas was really pumped up about getting a chance to come here and compete today. Both of these kids played their hearts out. It’s a shame it had to be in the first round.”
Staken was obviously not pleased with the way the seeding did him zero favors. He knew warming up he had his hands full as Wain’s strong ground strokes and mobility were both excellent.
Considering either player could have probably beaten most of the rest of the unseeded field, it was an almost cruel way to usher them into the tournament. Staken nobly took it all in stride.
“It was a hard-fought game, and the drawing is what it is,” he said. “After the first set I felt like I really got into a groove. I couldn’t hit my serves for a while, but then I started settling in. I thought I played well in the second set, and the third set he got the better bounces. We were pretty evenly matched all day long.”
In just his second year of playing tennis, Staken said he worked hard and felt like his game came a long way this season. He said it does him no good to get angry about anything, noting that he would prefer to look on the bright side.
“I worked hard, and I went out and battled a guy who has been playing tennis his whole life,” Staken said. “He was really good, and I battled with him, so I can’t be all that upset. I wanted to win, but I thought I played well.”
Unfortunately for Hiland, the rest of the team suffered the same fate as Staken, falling in the opening round, despite there being some definite positive moments and some good plays.
Hiland’s first-doubles team of Chris Miller and Brant Klink were involved in a spirited contest with the Coshocton number-one team of Blake Barrick and Jason Unger. Hiland played great out of the gate and captured game one 7-5, but Coshocton turned it on late, gathered itself and rolled 6-2, 6-2 to claim the win. Hiland’s second-doubles team of Joel Kornhaus and Pat Miller actually played a solid game against Claymont’s number-one team of Kyler Struchen and Cameron Henry, but the Mustangs held the edge at the end 6-3, 6-3.
At second doubles for Hiland, senior Jadon Hochstetler played well in challenging East Liverpool’s Peyton Reed, dropping the first game 6-4, returning the favor for a 6-4 win in game two before faltering and dropping the deciding game 6-2.
A unique story came at the other singles spot, where third-singles player Taylor Mullet waged quite the battle with East Liverpool’s number-one Ayden Payne.
The two waged a 2 1/2-hour battle that eventually went to Payne, but he had to work hard for his 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 win. Mullet continually kept the ball in play, and the two waged some lengthy points en route to what was probably the day’s longest game.
While it was a disappointing exit for all of the Hawks, head coach Bert Jones said his young team, which had five first-year players and two second-year players on it, learned a lot, considering five of his seven are a lot better known for their soccer skills.
“We actually won three matches in a row and kind of got on a roll late in the year, and we got better as the year went along,” Jones said. “We have a long way to go, but I’m pretty pleased with the progress that we made, all things considered. With this many new kids, we had so much to learn about the basics of the game.”
Jones said with both Staken and Hochstetler graduating, he has a few more young players ready to step in to contribute, so the hope is that the experience earned by this crop of soccer-playing juniors will carry over into next year.
“We are going to be athletic, but it is a matter of picking up some of the little things in tennis,” Jones said. “The one thing we need to develop is the ball control to give us confidence to take shots up the alley and to hit corners more and make people chase a little bit more than we do.”