Ursuline tennis team states its case in two ways
Irish has five headed for Mason; team also in OTCA tournament
By BOB ETTINGER
The Ursuline boys tennis team ended last season with a bitter taste in their mouths and set out on a mission to earn a banner signifying a state tournament appearance in 2019. The Fighting Irish may or may not end this season tasting something sweeter, but the they did earn their banner memorializing a historic season.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Ursuline coach Kent Blacksher said. “It’s refreshing to see that young men like these ones can put a goal out there, fight to achieve it and encourage each other along the way. It’s not often you see that. It’s really special.”
On Sunday, the Fighting Irish will take their shot at a state championship with the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Team Tournament.
“They’ve been really focused,” Blacksher said. “They’ve been firing on all cylinders. We need that right now. You’re only as good as your weakest link. We’re hitting the ball well all over the lineup. I hope they find another gear. They’re going to need it for both the state team and individual tournaments.”
Before the Ursuline players face that test as a team, several of them will be tested as individuals in the OHSAA State Tennis Tournament, which opens at 9 a.m. Friday with Division I singles at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason and continues Saturday with the semifinal and consolation rounds.
Greg Morgione of Ursuline and Armand Nannicola of Warren John F. Kennedy will play in the Division II singles event while the Ursuline tandems of Austin Arfaras and Luke Tsudis and Gavin Blacksher and Josh Khavari will toil in doubles play. In Division I, Antony Payiavlas and Alexander Payiavalas will represent Warren G. Harding in the doubles tournament.
When they resume play as a team on Sunday morning in Reynoldsburg, some combination of Morgione, Arfaras, Tsudis, Sean McNamara, Glenn Christopher, Gavin Blacksher and Khavari will take to the court, though the lineup currently hasn’t been decided.
Ursuline will play Ottawa Hills in a state semifinal at 9:30 a.m. Depending on that result it will play the winner or loser of the Wellington-Cincinnati Country Day match later in the day.
“When you’re talking about Wellington, Cincinnati Country Day and Ottawa Hills, you’re talking about consistent performers,” Blacksher said. “It’s the Final Four. The bottom line is there are hitters everywhere. Everyone has a dangerous lineup. We have to go out, hit the ball and execute. It just comes down to going out and playing.”
The Fighting Irish exorcised the demons of losing in the regional final a year ago, but there’s more to be done.
“The great thing about this group is it’s always hungry,” Blacksher said. “Certainly, there was a line they wanted to cross. They could’ve patted each other on their backs and said, ‘OK, we’re done.’ But, legitimately, while they were still on the court, they were talking about getting back to work. They want to represent the area and Youngstown well and show what they can do.”