Shalin Shah, Noah Weiss and Chris Kuppler make Canfield one of the top Division I teams in the area.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ursuline junior Brian Meek leaned against the black chain-link fence surrounding the Volney Rogers tennis court on Thursday and ran his fingers through his hair.
Meek's hair is, well, different.
It's curly. It grows out, rather than down. It's dark brown on the sides and orange on top thanks to a dye-job that was supposed to make his hair blond, but didn't.
"Me and my friends said that we wouldn't get our hair cut until prom," said Meek, who has about three weeks until prom. "The color didn't come out like it was supposed to, but it looks good when it's wet."
Singles victory: On Thursday, his hair was dry. He had just finished off Mooney's No. 2 singles player Carl Kasper 6-0, 6-0 -- hardly even working up a sweat.
He and teammate Donald Person, who beat Mooney's No. 1 Ben Higham on Thursday, flip-flop between the No. 1 and No. 2 singles spot at Ursuline, one of the top teams in the area.
Both qualified for state last year. Both plan to make it again this year. Next year, Meek and Person will play doubles -- and, Meek said matter-of-factly, "we'll win state."
Person, who was sitting next to Meek at the time, just nodded his head.
"We will," Person repeated, smiling. "I like that."
Person lost in the first round of last year's Division II state tournament to sophomore Michael Good of Gahanna Columbus Academy, 6-1, 6-1. Meek paired with then-senior Todd Wojtkowski to advance to the state semifinals in doubles, finishing fourth.
"I need to make it out of the first round," Person said with a laugh. "My goal is to get to the semifinals this year."
Person's younger brother, Kelton, a freshman, plays No. 3 at Ursuline. The two brothers play at least three times a week.
"He's never beat me, and he won't beat me before I graduate," Person said.
Closeness: Person doesn't play Meek as often.
"They're too good of friends," Ursuline coach JoAnn Gardner said.
Added Person: "It's hard to be competitive when you're close friends. It's nice having him on the team. It makes it easier knowing that if you lose a match, you have him to lean on."
Ursuline coach JoAnn Gardner, who graduated from Ursuline in 1976 and started coaching the Irish four years ago, said that Person and Meek "make me look good."
"They're getting to be among the top players in the state," she said.
Gardner beefed up this year's schedule to help the Irish prepare for state. Ursuline, which had 14 boys go out for the team, is trying to win its third straight Steel Valley Conference title.
"That's our first goal," Meek said.
Both players have an Achilles heel. Meek has played sparingly over the last month because of a bum right arm -- his deltoid muscle gets sore -- and is rusty. Person has asthma, which gives him problems when he has to play three-set matches. He started running this off-season to build up his endurance.
"These guys are driven to get to state," Gardner said. "They're like a dream team."
Canfield strong again: After finishing as runners-up in last year's Division I state doubles tournament, Canfield senior Shalin Shah and junior Chris Kuppler are going solo.
They'll team with senior Noah Weiss to form one of the top teams in the area.
"They're all outstanding players for different reasons," Canfield coach Larry Davis said. "Shalin just has oodles of natural talent; Chris is an extremely hard worker and Noah is very athletic."
The Cardinals placed fourth in the state last year and returns their top three players.
"With them back, who knows what we can do?" Davis said.