By TIM CLEVELAND
Year in and year out, Warren JFK has had one of the top tennis programs in the area. The Eagles routinely have players advance deep into the state tournament.
This year is no different. JFK defeated Poland, 4-1, Monday to finish the regular season 15-2 heading into next week’s postseason action.
The Eagles will play Beachwood on Monday at Trumbull Country Club in the finals of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association’s Northeast district tournament. A victory there advances them to the final four in Columbus on June 2.
JFK begins Division III sectional play today, with singles at Boardman High School and doubles at Mill Creek Park.
In advancing to the OTCA semifinals, the Eagles scored a historic 3-2 victory over defending champion University School, a team they had lost to 5-0 the year before. With the win, JFK advanced further in the event than it ever had before.
“Tyler Cole won in the last minute before it got dark,” JFK coach Joe Marino said. “It was 2-2 and he pulled it out. We’d never beaten University, ever.
“We are seven players strong. Talk to any coach and they’ll say you can’t get very far if everybody can’t hit.
“Tyler would be No. 1 (singles) on many high school teams.”
“They were the defending state champs,” Cole said of his victory. “If I would’ve lost we would’ve lost. It really felt amazing to get through.”
Leading the way for JFK is senior Jad Abdul-Aal, who is 14-1 as the team’s No. 1 singles player. The top doubles duo is Cole and John Nader, both juniors who are undefeated as a team this season. The three are among the top seeds in the singles and doubles events of the OHSAA tournament.
“This is by far the best team that JFK has had in my 20-something years (as coach),” Marino said. “They are very balanced. They’ve only lost two matches, one to Western Reserve Academy 3-2 and they lost to Canfield 3-2. They’ve been very steady and consistent. I’m very pleased with their overall play. We have a good chance to advance both singles and doubles players to state.”
The complete lineup for JFK for Monday’s match against Beachwood is Abdul-Aal, Cole and Nader playing singles, Caelan Phillips and Danielle Covelli and Billy Phillips and Daniel LaPolla filling the doubles spots.
Abdul-Aal is in his second season with the Eagles. He advanced to state last year but lost in the first round. As for the OTCA tournament, he thinks both he and JFK have a good chance to defeat Beachwood.
“As a team I think our chances are as high as can get right now,” he said. “It’s doable to get into the final four. Individually, I’m playing pretty well lately. As long as I do what I’ve been doing I’ll will be fine.”
Cole and Nader have formed a formidable doubles team, having advanced to districts together as freshmen and sophomores. They are undefeated as a duo in 2013 and continue to display outstanding chemistry together.
“We play really well together because we know each other’s games so well,” Cole said. “We’ve played together since we were 8 or 9 so we know each other’s games really well.”
In addition to chemistry, Marino said JFK’s attitude has helped
“No tantrums or tirades,” he said. “They’ve been a real respectful group. They’ve handled their challenge matches well. They’ve accepted whatever came down the line; it seems like every other day I’ve have to change the lineup, for the regular season, OTCA, OHSAA.”