Those pesky Mayfield Wildcats were taking a stab at dethroning the Kenston aces with a possible upset on the third singles court, but Bomber junior Bryce Grossman was having none during the Western Reserve Conference tournament last Wednesday in Bainbridge.
Grossman had defeated Mayfield sophomore Johnny Gaudio, 6-2, 6-1, two days earlier, during a split dual match that went in Kenston’s favor, 3-2. The Wildcats won the first and second singles courts that day.
But during the semifinals of WRC tourney play, Gaudio was giving Grossman some early fits and took the first set, 7-6. Grossman came back and won the second set, 6-0, and then took the match tiebreaker, 10-7, to advance to the finals.
“That pretty much sealed the deal for us to win the conference,” Kenston 12th-year head coach Dale Israelson said. “That pretty much put all of us in the finals, and then we only had to win two matches to clinch the championship.”
Grossman went on to win his second straight WRC title on the third singles court by way of a 6-0, 6-2 victory against Willoughby South sophomore Jacob Miozzi in his finals match.
“(Grossman) has done exactly what he did last year,” Israelson said. “He’s a good athlete, and he gets a ton of balls in play, and he just wears you down.”
Not only did the Bomber aces swing their rackets in all five finals matches, but they captured four of those courts to run away with their third straight WRC banner.
At second singles, Kenston junior Grant Mountain pulled off a dominant upset against Mayfield senior Kevin Ng, 6-2, 6-3, after Ng had previously defeated Mountain during a tiebreaker match, 5-7, 6-3, 1-0, in dual play two days earlier.
One main difference was that Ng won the dual match indoors at the Chagrin Valley Athletic Club, before Mountain took advantage of the outdoor elements on his home courts during tournament play.
“We went outside, and the winds were picking up, and he did a very good job of the game plan that we had talked about,” Israelson said. That’s what I joke about with everybody. I say, ‘Where do they put the wind turbine?’ Right next to the tennis court, because you’re at one of the highest spots in Bainbridge right there.
“And I really do think it’s an advantage to the kids that they get to play up there and they get used to the wind. Every team that I’ve had the past 11 years always seems to play well in the wind.”
While Mountain and Kenston freshman Max McNeal own the two seed for the three-day Division I doubles sectional tennis tournament this week at Solon Community Park – they advanced to the semifinals with a ticket to districts on Tuesday – Mayfield’s Ng owns the four seed in the singles tournament as a favorite to advance to districts.
“He’s playing the best tennis of the season right now,” Israelson said about Mountain defeating Ng in the WRC tourney. “He really was in charge of that match from the beginning.”
Kenston’s McNeal finished runner-up on the first singles during WRC tourney play, losing in straight sets against Mayfield sophomore Yukun Wang, who was a state doubles qualifier with Ng last season.
Wang is the two seed for the sectional singles tournament this week.
“He’s played Chas Norman from US. He’s played Alex Drewes from Jackson. And then he’s played Yukun twice now in the last two weeks,” Israelson said about McNeal taking on some of the top talent from Northeast Ohio.
“And every time he comes off the court, you know, I asked him, I say, ‘So, how do you think you played?’ because I know the answer,” Israelson said. “And he responds, ‘I played well, and I probably played the best tennis I have all year.’ So, in the big matches, the score doesn’t reflect how he’s hitting the ball. But he’s definitely peaking at the right time. He’s striking the ball better than he has all season.”
A freshman phenom for the Bombers, McNeal follows in the footsteps of Kenston 2011 graduate Nolan Marks and 2017 graduate Austin Barr, both of whom were first singles players their freshman seasons and advanced to the Division I state tournament.
“I just think overall he’s got great hand skills, his ground strokes are solid, he’s not afraid to come to the net, and he’s got the smarts to know what to look for on the other side of the court in strengths and weaknesses,” Israelson said of McNeal.
Meanwhile, Kenston doubles ran the show during the WRC tournament.
On the first doubles court, Kenston senior Nate Fisher and sophomore Logan Fouts defeated Mayfield seniors Trenton Lam and Adam Gagliardo, 6-3, 6-3, in a near repeat of their 6-2, 6-3 win in dual play from two days earlier.
“I think the biggest thing with the whole team this year is we just put so many more balls in play than we did a year ago, and that’s why we’re playing well as a team,” Israelson said. “You know, 6-3, 6-3, they had a couple games that were close in the finals, but they were in control most of the way, and it’s just because, when it’s a tough shot, we know now to put it back in play. And that’s what they did. And that’s what second doubles is doing.”
On the second doubles court, Kenston senior Nick Silva and junior Sam Wein cleaned up with straight-set skunks, 6-0, 6-0, against their Mayfield opponents in the WRC tourney finals.
“The biggest thing is we’ve got the depth,” Israelson said. “That’s the thing. You know, one through seven, it’s been this way the last couple years. And Sam and Nick are using what they can do out on the court to complement each other very well. I think they would have a real good match against Mayfield’s (first doubles) team. I mean, they’re that solid.”