For the past six seasons, the John F. Kennedy Eagles have sent at least one tennis player to the state tournament.
It started with Michael Fredericka, who qualified for the state tournament all four years of his high school career. Jad Abdul-Aal continued that streak for the past two years, which included a run to the state semifinals last season. His finish was the best place an Eagle has recorded since Barry Conlan won back-to-back state titles in 1978-1979.
With Abdul-Aal gone, extending that streak another year for coach Joe Marino and the Eagles will likely fall to seniors and top returning players Tyler Cole and John Nader. Not that they are looking too far down the road, however.
"We want to keep up the tradition of sending players to the state tournament, but I don't really think that at the beginning of the season, you can look that far ahead," Nader said. "I think we have to take one match at a time and improve as we go along. That's definitely a goal of ours, but we don't take anything for granted throughout the season.
"So, we have to put in work everyday in order to get to that point."
Throughout the regular season and team tournament last year, the two were the No. 2 and 3 singles players for Kennedy, although Cole started off the season as Kennedy's first-ranked singles player before Abdul-Aal challenged him and took the spot back. Cole finished the season with a 12-3 record and Nader completed the season with an 11-4 mark.
To go along with the strong singles performances, the duo also had a lot of success as a doubles team, qualifying for the district tournament the last three years. Last season, Cole and Nader won the sectional tournament without dropping a single set and fell one match short of qualifying for state.
So, which will be best for Cole and Nader to make it to Columbus?
"We'll have to see, although Tyler Cole, he's more of a singles player. John can do both, he's got great hands," Marino said. "So, we're actually thinking about it. We've been discussing -we even had a meeting a month ago just to hang out and discuss what we might want to do because we're really not sure yet. It will be very hard to make it as a singles player to state."
In the singles tournament this year, Marino pointed to five or six strong singles player in this area alone, meaning it will be hard for both to get out of the sectional tournament, let alone the district tournament that adds in strong players from the Cleveland area. Therefore, it could be that the two try the doubles tournament again or have one participate in the singles and have the other pair up with another doubles player, such as junior Caelan Phillips.
If Cole and Nader decide to play doubles later in the season, Marino said the two could see some match action as doubles during the regular season - even at the expense of the entire Kennedy team.
"If we decide to pair them up, we will start working early because before (last year) we were in team, league, regular season matches, sectionals - we couldn't afford to put them together," Marino said. "Since they were sectional champs last year, if we work early enough and they play together more, I think they can make it to state, but we have to do it at the cost of losing some (team) matches along the way, which I don't care about."
Both Nader and Cole said they see the logic in this approach.
"If you play more during the season, you'll obviously have more practice at it and you'll be more confident in yourself and your teammate," Cole said.
Still, they don't need to make that decision quite yet - one of many Marino has to make this season on a deep squad.
"We have some options," Marino said. "We're pretty deep. I don't think we'll be as strong as we were last year, but we'll be balanced - have a nice top seven, nine players."