By Steve WILAJ
As a member of Canfield High’s football team, senior Nick Debiec often noticed a certain trend during practice breaks.
“When I was out on the football field — when I don’t have time to play tennis — I’d see all the guys playing,” said Debiec, also a member of the Cardinals’ tennis team. “Our team is playing all the time in the winter, fall and summer. These guys just do a phenomenal job because they love the sport.”
In turn, Canfield has a perfect 10-0 record this season, its latest victory coming against Poland, 3-2, on Wednesday at the Salem Racquet Club.
While Debiec (the Cardinals No. 1 player) and Ryan Kaleel (No. 2) lost singles matches, Bobby Long picked up a singles win and Canfield’s doubles teams of Will Brown and Alec Kan and Davis Hoffess and Mason Mangapora each were victorious.
“We have a lot of team depth,” Canfield coach Larry Anderson said. “We’re pretty solid 1-9 really. Other teams in this area lack the depth, so they can’t beat us in the bottom part of the lineup.”
Brown and Kan beat Poland’s Justin Christoff and Rocky Jeswald in two sets, while Hoffess and Managapora beat Daniel Skoloda and Jon Seitz, also in two sets.
“The doubles and singles went how everyone expected,” Anderson said. “And the number-two match really went at it.”
Kaleel fell to Anthony Ricciardi 6-3, 6-1 in a competitive match.
“That was a mental match – who’s going to stay focused the longest,” Poland coach Ann Marian said. “Anthony played really well, making his shots and playing smart tennis.”
As for the No. 1 singles, Poland’s Garrett Gardner ousted Debiec 6-0, 6-0.
“I tried to stay on the point as long as I can and keep every ball back in play,” Gardner said. “So I used my speed and my counter-ability to stop him from overpowering me.”
That skill set helped Gardner earn a scholarship to Valparaiso University, which he will make official when he signs today. Marian credited his mental toughness and natural skill, adding the Crusaders will be “lucky to have him.”
“I’ve been talking with their coaches for about a month,” Gardner said. “I went up and took a college visit and loved it. You can’t go wrong with D-I college tennis, so I’m very excited.”
Gardner — who is undefeated individually so far this season and did not lose a match until the state tournament a year ago — said he’s also excited to make another run at the state tournament.
“Being a senior, you have a little bit of senioritis with school,” he said. “But I can’t wait to wrap up this regular season and go one more time at state and hopefully do well.”
Same goes for his competitor, Debiec, who said playing the Valpo recruit was a positive.
“I’m getting ready for sectionals and districts coming up with my partner Will Brown,” he said. “So it’s a good warmup to play with someone of that level.”
The doubles team of Brown and Debiec has narrowly missed Columbus the past two years, each time falling in the regional finals.
“Getting so close and getting a taste of state competition puts a bitter taste in your mouth,” Debiec said. “So it’s more of a redemption type of thing like ‘Hey this is our last year. Let’s go all out and get to Columbus.’”