While the West Holmes Knights hovered around .500 most of the tennis season, one major factor is playing in the Ohio Cardinal Conference, a tough league with teams like perennial powerhouses Lexington, Ashland and Wooster, who make life fairly miserable on teams.
But what that does is prepare West Holmes for the rigors of sectional and district play, and when that rolls around, the competition doesn’t seem quite as daunting because they have been through the gauntlet.
It proved to be a solid day for the Knights, who saw their number-one doubles tandem of Curtis Wagner and Garrett Gallion qualify for districts. In addition both freshmen Hunter Ellis and James Barr earned first-round wins while Maddie Dewitt took her first-round opponent to the wire before falling. Much of that success can be attributed to feeling comfortable after the tough OCC slate of games.
“Normally the OCC is a lot stronger, so it does prepare us pretty well for the sectional tournament,” West Holmes head coach Jason Otto said. “Maddie actually had a really good match with a kid that Garrett a good match earlier. With the talent level of the OCC, it has been that way forever for us.”
“Overall I am very pleased,” Otto said of the day-one activity. “Both of our freshmen got wins at singles, and I was especially pleased with James because he has played doubles for most of the year. To see him step in and play with confidence was really nice.”
As for his district-qualifying doubles tandem of Gallion and Wagner, they had to wait around most of the morning as slow play led to a longer-than-expected wait. However, the two had to do the same thing last season, so it was nothing new for a pair of seasoned veterans.
“Hey, they are out of school, so they should be happy,” Otto said with a chuckle. “I don’t think the delay affected them all that much. They are veteran players who have been here before and know what to expect, and I liked the way they came out and played once they got started.”
With a buy as the number-one seed, they finally got on the court to face Coshocton’s number-two doubles team. After a bit of a sluggish start, they finally found their tempo and game and rolled to a quick two-set win 6-3, 6-0.
In facing Claymont’s number-one doubles tandem in the match to go to districts, the Knights duo played very well, again disposing of their opponent rather quickly in two sets 6-1, 6-0 as Gallion played very aggressively throughout.
“That’s a veteran senior doing what he is supposed to do at this time of the year,” Otto said.
The veterans continued to dominate, going back to the seeding round the following day, where they won the sectional and earned a number-one seed. They defeated number-four seed Cambridge 2 handily at 6-1, 6-2 and then snuck past number-two seed Cambridge 1 by a 7-5, 6-4 score.
DeWitt faced Claymont’s number-two singles man Bryce Myers, took an early lead before Myers responded and won 7-5, 7-6 in a very evenly matched contest.
Barr defeated Norman Butler, East Liverpool’s number two, 7-5, 6-1 before succumbing to the tournament’s number-three-seed Daniel Kissinger 6-1, 6-0.
Ellis took down Alpha Jallow 7-6, 6-2 before facing talented Mikah Krause of Steubenville. Ellis played really well, battling the entire game, and the 6-1, 6-1 final didn’t exactly tell the tale of how hard-fought the match was.
West Holmes’ second-doubles team of sister and brother junior Liberty Arnold and freshman Cameron Arnold had a tough draw after receiving a forfeit win over Mike Shaheen and Burke Glover, falling to the duo of East Liverpool’s three-seeded number-one doubles team of Cole Dailey and Austin Deering 6-0, 6-1.
“I am really pleased with the effort we gave today,” Otto said. “Curtis and Garrett did exactly what they needed to do in taking care of business.”
West Holmes got on a nice roll mid-season, reeling off six out of seven wins, before facing some of the OCC’s finest late and falling in several close 3-2 losses.
“With Garrett our only senior and a lot of inexperienced players gaining some valuable playing time this year, we have a lot of potential for the coming years,” Otto said. “We had four straight 3-2 losses to end our regular season, which was really tough to take, but I think that really helped prepare us for today. And seeing our young kids coming down here to get a win was big in terms of gaining some valuable experience and confidence.”