For the Copley doubles team of Gavin Aten and Gustavo Garcia and for Jackson’s Joey Thomas, their first experience playing in the state boys tennis tournament at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason couldn’t have ended any better.
While Thomas won the Division I state singles title last season when the event was held at Ohio State, Aten settled for runner-up a year ago in doubles but this year captured a Division I championship.
Winning state isn’t an experience that Thomas, a senior, takes for granted.
“It feels great to be a two-time champ,” Thomas said. “It really shows hard work does truly pay off. I feel like I have more belief in myself after last year but I still approach every point the same and play like I’m trying to get my first state title.”
Thomas, a four-time state qualifier, beat Cincinnati St. Xavier’s Andrew Niehaus 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in a semifinal and Chagrin Falls Kenston’s Nico Mostardi 6-3, 6-4 for the title.
He and his teammates will compete in the state team tournament Sunday at Reynoldsburg.
“The main reason I won today was because I was extremely consistent,” Thomas said. “I only had about six or seven ground-stroke errors with a few double faults. The key was to stay consistent and have a high first-serve percentage, and also bring the energy and passion that I have to the game.
“[Sunday] is an even bigger day with the entire team [title] on the line. I won the individual with the help of my family and friends and I want to give back to them.”
Aten and Garcia beat Mason’s Niraj Komatineni and Sean Reid 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 in a semifinal and again needed three sets to beat Cincinnati Sycamore’s Noah Stern and Alex Taylor 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-3 to win the title.
The final had a rain postponement which Aten believes sliced into his team’s momentum.
Also complicating things was that Copley’s prom was held Saturday night.
The senior duo raced back home after the match.
“I was kind of thinking about [prom] because there was a rain delay, about whether we’d get back in time, but we knew it would be fine,” Aten said. “It’s very exciting and feels unreal. Honestly, we just played well.”
“It feels amazing,” Garcia added. “It’s really nice that we got to accomplish the goal we set since the beginning of the season. It was mostly a lot of tough teamwork. It wasn’t an easy match and we knew since the beginning that we would have to play our best to stay aggressive.”
Also competing on the second day of state was Jackson senior Jake Zalenski, who lost to Mostardi 6-3, 6-2 in a semifinal.
He then beat Niehaus 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to finish third overall.
Coach Louie Thomas, who is Joey Thomas’ brother, was excited that Zalenski got a chance to shine at state.
“I always call it a blessing and a curse because Jake’s a top-four player in the state of Ohio and we also have Joey,” coach Thomas said. “It’s good that he’s finally been able to show his stuff.”