Chagrin Falls freshman Andrew Zimcosky might as well drop out of school, pack his bags for Florida and start training to become pro.
Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the Tiger ace didn’t waste any time accomplishing what takes most high school tennis players three or four years to chase.
Zimcosky ended his rookie campaign undefeated by capturing the Division II state singles crown on Friday and Saturday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, just northeast of Cincinnati.
In doing so, he became the first state tennis champion in his program.
The last time a freshman won a state singles title in Ohio – in either division – was when Lima Shawnee’s Justin O’Neal defeated University School’s Dave Paradzik, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, in the 1993 Division II title match.
“A little bit, a little bit,” Zimcosky said, when asked if being called a state champion has set in yet. “It was a pretty incredible experience. Jackson (Quinn) and I went up there on Thursday and had a great opportunity to warm up on center court, which is pretty awesome.
“So, I kind of just took that all in. But I didn’t try to focus too much on the venue. I tried to focus on what’s familiar when I was down there, because I have to focus on playing my match and do what I can to block out all the outside stuff.”
The Lindner Family Tennis Center is home of the Western and Southern Open with a capacity of 11,435 for its center court. There are 16 courts overall at the facility.
Chagrin Falls sophomore Jackson Quinn was also a state singles qualifier under 10th-year head coach Leslie Lozon this year. He lost his opening match against Gahanna Columbus Academy senior Drew Haffer, 6-1, 7-6.
During Zimcosky’s opening day, he skunked Cincinnati Country Day junior Neil Badlani, 6-0, 6-0, as well as Bryan freshman Jay Fortner, 6-0, 6-0, to advance to the state semifinals and become an all-Ohioan.
“Yeah, for sure,” Zimcosky said about being surprised he won both of his matches on Friday without giving up a game. “After the first day, I was like, ‘Man, that probably could not have gone better.’ I played lights out both matches, and I thought the impressive thing for me was that I thought I handled the nerves really well, because I was nervous going into that.”
There were three freshmen in Division II state singles action who were obviously playing their first state tournament and did not know what to expect, but all three advanced to the quarterfinals, including Zimcosky, Fortner and Waverly’s Penn Morrison.
“I was just dictating points really well with my forehand,” Zimcosky said. “And then my volleys were looking really good in the beginning, and I was able to place a lot of really good shots.”
Although Badlani and Fortner were trying to keep shots to Zimcosky’s backhand, Zimcosky’s returns didn’t allow that to last long, he said.
“I found in both of those matches that I was more on offense, so then it was tougher for them to get to my backhand,” he said. “So, I thought they were more defensive and that made it more difficult for them to get it over there.
“(Fortner) was pretty solid, though. He was hitting his backhand pretty well, and his forehand was similar to mine, because it was really heavy. I honestly did not know he was a freshman.”
When he returned to the courts for semifinal action on Saturday, Zimcosky lined up against Camden Preble Shawnee junior Pierce Elliott, whose school is only about 30 miles from the Lindner Family Tennis Center.
With Chagrin Falls being 230 miles from the venue, Zimcosky didn’t quite have the same fan support in the semifinals.
“Yeah, he did have a pretty decent amount of support, and I knew that match was going to be tough,” Zimcosky said. “I think, if I would have played against him with that type of crowd in my first match, it could have been a little bit different of a story.
“But I kind of just tuned it out and handled it really well. And I was kind of used to having some people watch me. I really didn’t pay attention to it or let it get to me. But I would say I felt like a little bit of a visitor.”
Nonetheless, Elliot won the opening set, 6-4. It was the first set Zimcosky lost all season.
“Right after I lost that first set, I sat down, and I was like, ‘All right, second set time,’” Zimcosky said of his short memory. “The next set was going to determine if this was it for me in my run for a state title, or I could keep going.
“So, I kind of just sat down and decided I was going to give it everything I have each point, and, if that’s not enough to beat him, then he beat me today, and he’s too good. He earned it. So, I went in with that mentality and played like I had nothing to lose.”
That mentality led Zimcosky to win the next two sets for the match victory, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
In addition to his mental fortitude, Zimcosky said he was able to get more balls back, as well as hit more winners for the remainder of the match.
“It was a combination for both, but I was just staying really consistent,” he said. “And I was kind of not willing to miss in the second set. I just wanted him to play as many shots as possible and work on my points as well as I could.
“The beginning was a grind, and so was the end, but, once I finally got that separation, I really started to zone in and then kind of finished the match. And I was really proud, just to come through like that.”
The last time Zimcosky had to play a three-set match was during a United State Tennis Association tournament in February against a seeded player that he upset in a tiebreaker, 10-8, he said.
On the other half of the state bracket on Saturday, Youngstown Ursuline junior Greg Morgione won his semifinal match against Columbus Wellington School junior Trevor Ball, 7-6, 5-7, 6-0.
During the previous week’s district title match, Zimcosky defeated Morgione, 6-3, 6-2.
But Morgione withdrew from the state tournament and did not play Zimcosky in the state title match, crowning Zimcosky the state champion.
“His coach pulled me over, and Greg was in a room with a trainer, and he was cramping all over, and he couldn’t even walk at that point,” Zimcosky said. “And he pulled me into the room with Greg, and Greg told me, ‘Hey, congrats on the state championship. I don’t think I’m going to be able to play.’
“It was tough to see, it was kind of a sucky way to end, and I thought Greg deserved to be able to play that final match. It was tough, but I have nothing but respect for what he did with calling me in and handling the situation like that. But, at the end of the day, I wish we would have got to play it out.”
Winning a state title his freshman season, Zimcosky now has the opportunity to chase what no other player in the 100-year history of Ohio high school state tennis has done – win four state singles titles.
There have only been three three-time state singles champs, including: Cincinnati Walnut Hills’ Tony Trabert, from 1946-1948; Lakewood’s Clark Graebner, from 1959-1961; and Lima Shawnee’s Justin O’Neal, who won a Division II title in 1993 and Division I titles in 1995 and 1996.
“I haven’t put much thought beyond this year,” Zimcosky said. “I think I’m going to focus on USTA, and then when high school season comes back around I’ll kind of think about that a little more. And I think next year we’ll schedule some tougher competition. So, I think next year, if I do something similar, I will have earned it a little bit more.”