When Aaron Paczak lost to Hawken's Sid Ahuja on May 23 in Canton, it would have been easy for the Lakeview senior to be upset and disappointed.
In his previous two seasons, Paczak qualified for the state tennis tournament - as a doubles player in 2012 and as a singles player in 2013 - and Paczak hoped to go farther in his senior year. That hope ended when he stepped off the courts in Canton, as losing to Ahuja in straight sets in the second round of the district tournament meant Paczak was not heading down to Columbus for a third time.
Paczak needed to put everything in perspective, however. He broke his ankle during practice in December, and that, along with a deep-vain thrombosis (a blood cot), sidelined Paczak for almost four months.
"Even though it wasn't as successful as I would have hoped or as successful as I've had the past couple of years, it was still extremely successful," Paczak said. "Not many people go at No. 1 (singles player), only losing a couple matches in a season, get conference player of the year and stuff like that. So, I'm very thankful I had a decent season. I made it to districts, I was runner-up in the section... I can't really complain all that much coming off such a bad injury like that."
The Bulldogs' No. 1 singles player had gone from practicing tennis for four hours per day to having his left ankle wrapped in a boot and being unable to step onto a court for all that time. Paczak filled the downtime by hanging out with his friends more often on weekends, when he normally participated in United States Tennis Association tournaments on Saturday mornings and the hours spent in Akron on Sunday nights.
Still, it didn't take long for Paczak to miss tennis, saying by mid-January he was ready to step back onto the court. His coach, Stephanie Hickey, noticed how much that time away affected his attitude when he recovered.
"To have that totally taken away and go down to zero, I know was really hard for him mentally to adjust, but he adjusted and came back and appreciated the game more," Hickey said. "I think his mind was more refreshed and he just found a new love for the game."
That led to Paczak going 14-2 during the high school tennis season, including an undefeated mark in All-American Conference, White Division play to earn conference player of the year. He gained that much success despite being a half-step slower according to Paczak and having some issues with his footwork according to Hickey.
Those issues caught up to him at the end of the season, but Hickey said that shouldn't diminish what Paczak was able to accomplish in his high school career.
"Aaron Paczak has put the program on the map," Hickey said. "He's definitely the most decorated guy we've had in the history of the 10-year program. He is definitely one that has helped our program, energized other kids to come out and play."
Although he received some looks to play tennis at the collegiate level, Paczak decided against a chance to play for the Youngstown State men's tennis team and elected to go to University of Pittsburgh, where he will receive a full-tuition academic scholarship to study electrical engineering.
The Lakeview Class of 2014 valedictorian said he chose Pitt because he didn't want tennis to rule his decision.
"I didn't want to make my choice based just off of tennis because look what just happened to me this year - I broke my ankle and was out for four months," Paczak said. "Something like that could happen to me in college. I just made my decision on just one aspect."
It's not as though Paczak's connection to tennis will end, though. He said he will join the club tennis team at Pitt. He will continue to help out at the Lakeview tennis clinics put on during the summer, as well as help coach at the junior tennis league at Squaw Creek this summer.
"He's going to give back to others and share his love for the game with others throughout his life," Hickey said. "I think tennis will always be a part of Aaron's life because of his love for the game."