Ursuline seeing success in 2 tennis competitions
BOARDMAN — Ursuline coach Kent Blacksher looked around and couldn’t help but smile. The humidity was stifling inside the white, puffy dome encasing tennis courts at Squaw Creek.
His singles players and doubles teams were hitting backhands, forehands, some serves and adding some net play during their hour-long session — fine-tuning their games.
A few drops of sweat dripped off the players’ brows as the Irish are reaping the rewards of this season.
Ursuline is undefeated in regular-season play and heads into tonight’s Ohio Tennis Coaches Association regional final against one of the state’s best boys tennis teams — Hawken School — starting today at 5 p.m. at Squaw Creek. The winner advances to the state final four in Division II.
Beating a power like Hawken won’t be easy, but Ursuline has been a cohesive unit — cheering for one another to succeed. The Irish succeed in other ways, which pleases their coach.
“They compete the right way,” Blacksher said. “I see my team congratulating other teams on good shots, good points, and calling lines fairly and correctly, just playing things properly. That’s what makes me the most proud.
“Obviously, results are great and you love to see them win and their success, but the way they handle challenges and, more importantly, the way they handle themselves, it’s been a lot of fun.”
Ursuline has six players heading to the Division II Akron District at Springside Racquet & Fitness Club on Friday, starting at 9 a.m.
It starts with sectional doubles champions, juniors Sean O’Connor and Luke Tsudis. They defeated freshman teammates Josh Khavari and Gavin Blacksher for the sectional title Saturday. O’Connor and Tsudis open district play against Andrew Hussar and Andrew Jenkins of St. Thomas Aquinas, while Khavari and Blacksher start with Jack Cain and John Peterson, also from Aquinas.
Ursuline junior Austin Arfaras, who finished second in singles in the sectional, takes on Oberlin’s Isabelle Olaes, while Irish sophomore Greg Morgione faces Aquinas’ Christian Harwood.
Tsudis and Arfaras made it to state as a freshman doubles team, and have the most experience among the group.
This year’s No. 1 doubles team has a new look with Tsudis and O’Connor.
“We’re going in with a better mindset, me and my partner,” Tsudis said.
The other doubles is a freshman duo who played as the team’s No. 1 doubles unit all season.
It’s different types of games the two Irish pairings play, but what both have to do is play smart tennis and manage points, Kent Blacksher said.
Arfaras and Morgione are fierce competitors, Blacksher added. Arfaras moves well and relies on good ground strokes, while Morgione is a hard hitter with a combination of finesse and intelligence.
“So far, the track record speaks for itself,” Blacksher said. “They’ve done very well.”
Arfaras tweaked some ligaments in his knee a couple of weeks ago, which is why the Ursuline junior wears a black wrap on his right knee. He went for an overhead shot and came down awkwardly.
He’s not going to make excuses, nor let it hinder his progress.
“You have to put yourself in a mental state to block out the pain,” Arfaras said.
Morgione wants to work on his forehand, which he said was inconsistent in Saturday’s sectional semifinals and finals. It’s about looking forward and getting better.
Today, against Hawken, he hopes this team is good enough to defeat the Hawks.
“We didn’t lose anyone from last year,” Morgione said. “We gained a lot of good freshman like Josh and Gavin. It’s pretty much continuity. Everyone worked individually in the offseason to get better.
“Hopefully we get a win (today) and go down to Columbus.”
After that high-intensity match, Ursuline is ready for district play.
Arfaras said his team feels pretty good going into Akron.
“They have some good players, but personally I think we have the best players in this district,” he said. “I’ll be happy to put up what we have against them.”
So far, it’s been nothing but good tennis for the Irish.
“There’s a lot of tennis to come for Ursuline,” Blacksher said. “We know that. We’re trying to enjoy the ride and do the best we can.”