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Bomber aces run WRC table, serve chicken dinner

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
May 4, 2017
Tony Lange

The Kenston aces sent their Western Reserve Conference foes home with tomatoes and a warm tub of water following tournament action at their home courts last Wednesday, after the Bombers straight up skunked the field.

Not only did the Kenston tennis boys capture their league crown, but they conquered all five flights with straight-set victories in every finals match.

Furthermore, the Bombers accomplished that feat on the heels of losing their top two singles players from last season, including Division I state runner-up Nico Mostardi, as well as three of their four starting doubles rackets.

“I was surprised on how dominant we were,” Kenston 10th-year head coach Dale Israelson said. “We won all five, and we only lost 23 games total in the whole tournament. In half of our dual matches, we didn’t lose a court all season, and half of those matches were played without Parker (Banning) and without Nate Fisher. And we were still running the table. And then when we had them, it was a piece of cake.”

Kenston’s No. 1 singles player, senior Parker Banning was sidelined for six months leading into the season with a bone bruise to his tibia, a partially torn ligament and a high ankle sprain, he said.

And the Bombers’ top doubles player in their regular-season lineup, sophomore Nate Fisher, was sidelined for the beginning of the season with a strained labrum to his shoulder.

During the WRC tournament, Banning won his finals match of the first singles flight, 6-0, 6-1, against Chardon senior Aaron Haden.

“I’ve been working really hard this season, because I haven’t played in about 6 1/2 months,” he said. “All I’ve really played this year were the conference matches, and I didn’t even play all of those. But, when the tournament came, I played well and won.

“All three of my (tournament) matches were about the same decent difficulty, just kind of fighting myself and working through being pretty rusty. But it was a good feeling to be back playing, and I’m feeling pretty good.”

With a top-10 ranked program that finished regional runner-up in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament last season, the Bombers’ 2016 varsity squad did not compete in the WRC tournament, opening the door for Mayfield to take the league banner.

Instead, Kenston’s varsity B team, which plays a less competitive varsity schedule, was afforded the opportunity to compete.

“And they didn’t win,” Banning said. “But it was nice, because a lot of those same kids who were on varsity B last year are on the top varsity team this year, and we got to sweep all the courts. So, they kind of got a second go at it and took care of business. And we really needed that.”

On second singles court, Kenston junior Sam Cohen defeated Willoughby South senior Josh Grzincic, 6-4, 6-0, in his finals match of the conference tournament, after being a second doubles player for the Bombers last season.

And, with Banning sidelined at times this spring, Cohen also assumed some duties on the first singles court.

“That’s our team this year,” coach Israelson said of his second doubles player from a year ago moving up to No. 1 singles.

“I think the biggest difference is his experience from last year, playing all those top-flight teams that we did,” the coach said of Cohen. “And I think Sammy has used that experience that he got, even all being at second doubles, to apply it this year when he had to step up and play first singles.”

In that first 6-4 set of his WRC title match, Cohen was actually down, 4-3, before rallying off nine straight games to take the crown.

“That’s where I’m saying he used his experience from last year,” Israelson said. “The other kid got a lot of balls in play and was a human backboard, and Sammy got a little impatient in the first set. I talked to him and said, ‘You’ve just got to calm down, bring your targets in and get this guy off balance with your spins.’ He went back out there, and he didn’t lose another game.”

On the third singles court, senior Brett Grossman provided the Bombers a true skunking during a 6-0, 6-0 victory against Madison senior John Schultz.

Grossman got the nod to play varsity last season, when Banning was out with a stress fracture, and made the most of his opportunity by winning three matches at the 2016 Division I sectional tournament.

“No one expected him to win,” Israelson said of Grossman’s run to the sectional quarterfinals, one match victory shy of districts.

“He’s used that experience to his advantage this year to win quite a few matches,” the coach said. “He puts a ton of balls in play, hustles, he gets to every ball, makes sure it gets in play, and then he just refuses to lose.

“We played North Royalton in the second round of the team tournament, and he got down, 5-2, to that kid, and that kid was good, and he was a great athlete, and Brett looks at me, and he goes, ‘I’ve got this, coach.’ And he won, 7-6, 6-2. He just put more balls in play than the other guy did, and he just said, ‘I’m not going to lose.’ So, that’s his game.”

In first doubles action of the WRC tourney, Kenston’s tandem of Fisher and junior Chris Fantauzzo defeated Chardon’s duo of junior Jason Tysel and senior Evan Powell, 6-0, 6-3.

And on the second doubles court, Kenston senior Onur Kardzhala and sophomore Nick Silva won their WRC finals match against Madison junior Richie Camp and freshman Chris Blauman, 6-0, 6-4.

All four Bombers are varsity rookies this season, and Fisher specifically has really turned up the heat upon his return from his labrum injury, Israelson said.

“He’s got a really good serve, and his volley, he’s probably got the second-best volley next to Parker on the team,” the coach said. “So, that’s a good combination for doubles. And he’s a good golfer, so he’s got the good eye-hand coordination up there at the net. I think he’s slowly starting to realize his potential, and I’m excited to see how he does in the next two years here.”

For the Division I sectional tournament beginning May 9 at Shaker Heights, however, Kenston’s Banning and Cohen are partnering up to take on the doubles field. They are seeded-fourth in the 21-school tournament.

University School owns the top two seeds with senior twins Tyler Krantz and Drew Krantz, as well as the tandem of senior Danny Godes and freshman Chas Norman, while Solon senior Kevin Johnson and junior Kavi Jain hold the third seed.

In a dual match against Division I state No. 8-ranked Solon on Friday, according to Ohio Tennis Zone, Kenston’s Banning and Cohen lost a competitive doubles match against the Comet tandem of Johnson and junior Jake Novack, 6-4, 6-4.

In preparation for sectionals, the Bombers put together quite the schedule of matches this week, with state No. 1-ranked US, Westlake, defending OTCA regional champion Jackson and state No. 9-ranked St. Ignatius.

“So, we have good matches to get us ready, because we don’t want to just stop after winning the WRC,” Banning said. “We want to move on in the tournament. But, some of our goals this year were just to gain respect, become better athletes, and the third one, which was really the first, was to win the WRC. So, it was nice to accomplish those, but we’re not finished.”

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