The Ursuline senior will compete in Friday's state tennis competition at OSU.
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Kim Ezzo broke on to the high school tennis scene as a prodigious 13-year-old freshman, but never qualified for the state tournament.
Considering the 16-year-old Ursuline High senior started tennis lessons when she was 4, it's overdue.
"I guess the difference this year is desire," Ezzo said prior to her trip to Columbus where she'll play against Worthington Christian's Christiana Raymond in Division II singles.
After falling short at district the previous three years, Ezzo qualified fifth to play at Ohio State's Stickney Courts Friday.
Saturday's matches will be moved to Hilliard Davidson High because of the Ohio State football game.
"It's not that the competition isn't as good, but I feel I just wanted it more this year because I'm a senior," said Ezzo, who has a 24-1 record this season. Ezzo won all of but two of her matches this fall in straight sets.
She was taken to three sets by Ravenna's Mariah Mustardi -- and won -- but lost to Shaker Heights' Mimi Bell in the second round at the Canton district.
"I'm just not going to think about it," Ezzo said of her mental approach Friday. "My coaches assure me that anybody can beat anybody at state."
Most of Ezzo's improvement in the last few years has been on her midcourt game and volleys.
"I used to fear coming to the net, but I've been working on that. I've been coming in more and winning points at the net."
Ezzo's Ursuline coach is Joanne Gardner and her personal coach is former YSU player and coach Don Getz.
Ezzo, who won't turn 17 until June, is the daughter of Lori and David Ezzo of Liberty.
Ground-stroke consistency limits errors and her ability to adapt strategies to an opponent's style has also helped her game.
The only other area singles player headed to Columbus is Howland's Stephanie Gula in Div. I. She'll face Safiyya Ismail of Kings Mills Kings.
Doubles qualifiers are Poland's Megan Bennett and Jessica Mullis in Div. II, and Canfield's Lauren Sulick and Christina Brant in Div. I.
Bennett and Mullis are juniors with a 20-2 record. They will meet Christina Danosi and Ashley Staub of Columbus School for Girls.
This is Mullis' second trip to state. Two years ago, she teamed with Samantha Gett.
Poland coach Pam Steinhauser, a pro at the Boardman Tennis Center, has been teaching Bennett and Mullis since they were in the fourth grade.
Four years ago, Bennett's older sister Erin reached Columbus.
"Their game is perfect together," Steinhauser said of Mullis' consistency and Bennett's aggressiveness from the baseline and net.
"They have a chance if they can get a high first-serve percentage and get a good return-and-serve going that would set up net play which makes for a winning shot."
Steinhauser is in her 14th year at Poland.
Knowing something about the opponent will help Sulick and Brant, Canfield coach Pat Pavlansky said of their first match Friday against Jayne Miely and Stacey Cox of Upper Arlington.
"[Upper Arlington] won the last seven state Division I coaches tournament championships, but we also play them each year," he said.
"Everything will be new for my girls, but knowing Upper Arlington real well may help. We know their strengths. Being familiar with your opponent's strategy is an advantage."
Pavlansky said he's confident in Brant, his No. 1 singles player all season, and Sulick, a first-team All-Metro Athletic Conference doubles player the last three years.
"No. 1 singles teaming up with No. 1 doubles. That's worked out pretty well," Pavlansky said.
Brant and Sulick played seriously together for the first time at sectional.
Brant is a sophomore and Sulick, a junior.