After qualifying for the state tennis tournament in doubles as a freshman, Poland junior Garrett Gardner’s goal was to make a return trip to Columbus.

Mission accomplished.

In singles, Gardner won the Canton district tournament to earn a state berth.

“Compared to last year, my strokes have been a lot better, my mental game has been stronger,” Gardner said. “This year, it was an all-around improvement.”

In the first round at state, he lost to John Larkin of Cincinnati Seven Hills, ending an impressive season.

“Getting to state was fantastic, another dream come true,” said Gardner. “He [Larkin] was tough; we both played outstanding tennis. It could have gone either way.

“To go to Columbus in high school tennis is a big deal,” Gardner said. “I was happy to be back.”

Gardner’s mother, Joanne, is Boardman’s coach. Asked if she’s a mom or a coach when she watches him play, Gardner said, “Both.

“She’s always behind me, she has a lot of heart ... but she acts like a coach sometimes,” he said. “I always learn something from her so it’s a great thing.”

Gardner hopes to continue playing in college. Schools he’s considering are Connecticut, Toledo and Eastern Illinois, but he wouldn’t mind going south where tennis is played year-round.

Gardner loves history and says a career in criminal justice or as a military strategist would be intriguing.

“The mental aspect of my game was much better this year,” Gardner said. “Last year, there were some really close matches that I would let slip away because of mental blocks.”

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