Compelling action starts Demons tennis season
With 2016 Southwestern Conference first singles champion Aris Jhaveri back for his senior season, the 2017 Westlake boys tennis team knew they had a weapon to anchor the lineup. But with the 2016 graduation of 2nd and 3rd singles stalwarts Keenan Dinchman and Matt Homm, major questions loomed. Below is a capsule of the roller-coaster first two weeks.
Week 1: The 'Brick-Man' cannot be denied
The 2017 campaign began at home March 24 against Copley, a perennial top program. At first singles Aris Jhaveri had to face an unfamiliar opponent who unloaded rocket serves despite the frigid conditions. Once Jhaveri locked in on the returns however, it was game over as he pounded his opponent relentlessly to win decisively 6-4, 6-1.
At second singles, Sean Padden controlled many rallies, but the experience and consistency of his opponent proved too much.
At second doubles it was a ground-breaking performance for Leah Choban. Leah, a senior and three-year stalwart for the girls team, missed her senior girls season due to injury, but she rehabbed relentlessly to be ready for a comeback in time to be the first girl to compete for the Demons boys team. Playing with freshman Frank Licaurte, the two battled a tough Copley team and fought off 7 match points before eventually losing 6-2, 6-2.
Now down 2 matches to 1, the pressure was on the third singles and first doubles players to lead a comeback. Both matches proved tension-filled marathons. At 3rd singles sophomore Kyle Zubricky moved from first alternate all the way to third singles, as he substituted for injured senior Darin O'Meara. "The Brick" shocked his more experienced opponent with a combination of exhausting long rallies and strategic forays to the net, coming away with a 7-6, 6-4 victory to knot the match at 2-all.
The Demons first doubles team got off to a strong start, going ahead 5-3 in the first set before having it slip away. They then gutted out a 7-6 victory in the 2nd set. The match see-sawed in the 3rd set and the team of Avi Kirkpekar and Eddie Schartman found themselves down 3-5. With a series of clutch shots they managed to get the match to 4-5. It was not to be however, as the Copley team turned the tables and broke the Demons’ serve to close out the match and hand the Demons a difficult 3-2 loss.
The schedule offered no consolation as next up loomed defending state champion Jackson High School. The action started great for the Demons at first singles as Aris Jhaveri methodically dissected a top-flight opponent 6-0, 6-2.
At second singles Sean Padden stormed to a 6-2 win in the opening set, only to have his opponent turn the tables the final two sets.
Darin O'Meara returned to the lineup at 3rd singles and lost a hard-fought duel to again land the Demons in a 1-2 match deficit and needing a doubles sweep.
At first doubles, Avi Kirpekar and Leah Choban proved a great combination and relentlessly ripped off crisp service returns, leaving their opponents shell-shocked 6-3, 6-2. Now it was déjà vu, again tied 2-all with a doubles match left to decide the winner.
The Demons’ hopes rested with freshman Frank Ricaurte and sophomore Kyle "The Brick" Zubricky – both with little varsity doubles experience. It proved a classic style confrontation, with the hard-hitting Jackson team aggressively pressuring the measured shot-making of the demons. The guile of the Westlake duo led them to win the first set and grab a 3-2 second-set lead. However, the Jackson team found its mojo to take the second set 6-4 and grab an early third set lead. But, with close to 40 teammates and fans willing them on, the Demons duo hung close until ... finally ... it happened again.
The "Brick-Man" karma prevailed and in the end had Westlake coach Saumil Jhaveri exclaiming "Honestly unbelievable. They pulled out the final set 6-4! An amazing upset and great 3-2 team win, the atmosphere was great!" The team even managed victory in the exhibition singles match won by Demons sophomore Amin Boukzam.
WEEK 2: Avon Lake ends Demons’ 10-year SWC win streak
The second week started with the Demons defeating Olmsted Falls on April 3. Next followed a dose of reality as they were routed by Solon, the eighth-ranked team in the state. Finally, the Demons squared up against conference rival Avon Lake.
Despite cold, windy conditions, the level of play was tremendous, as the Shoremen handed the Demons their first conference loss in roughly 10 years. Three matches went the distance, with Avon Lake sweeping all, including a gripping three-hour marathon at first doubles. This final match came down to a third-set tiebreaker with both teams having match points before Avon Lake prevailed 8-6.
It stacked up as a memorable victory for the Shoremen after years of hard-fought losses. Avon Lake’s win raises the stakes for an epic duel in the SWC Tournament. What an incredible first two weeks of high school tennis!
Westlake resident since 1998, married, 2 kids who attend westkake schools, work at Rainbow as pediatrician