JFK’s tennis run ends

WARREN – When John F. Kennedy’s Jad Abdul-Aal stepped off the court at the Trumbull County Country Club following his match against Beachwood’s Karan Gill, he thought the Eagles were heading to Columbus.

Kennedy’s ace made quick work of Beachwood’s No. 1, 6-3, 6-0, and looking down the line, the scores in the two other singles matches seemed promising.

“It was nerve-racking,” Abdul-Aal said. “I got done with that match and saw that we were up in both (singles matches), and I felt like we had it in the bag. I don’t know what happened.”

Unfortunately for the senior and the Eagles, Beachwood managed to come back and outlast Kennedy to win the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Northeast Ohio district crown, 3-2.

Despite falling short of becoming the first area team to make it to Columbus as a team, Kennedy coach Joe Marino said the Eagles should be proud of their accomplishments, which included a 15-3 record and the farthest a Kennedy team had gone in the tournament.

“They got to keep their heads up,” Marino said. “They played very well. I’m pleased. It’s been a great year. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Although the Eagles’ second and third singles players, Tyler Cole and John Nader, started out strong, their Bison (19-1) opponents turned the tables around fast.

Cole defeated Alex Mactay in the first set, 6-3, but Mactay pushed back in the second set, taking and forcing a third. Both players went back and forth in the final set before Cole broke Mactay serve and finished him off, 6-4.

“I had to rethink of a way to get in his head again,” Cole said. “I just played my game throughout the third set until I got the break, and I served out for it beautifully.”

Nader, meanwhile, struggled against Brent Dubin, going into a into a tie-breaker in the first set before pulling away. It seemed to sap the energy out of the junior, and Dubin used his length and speed to take the final two sets.

Combined with Caelan Phillips and Danielle Covelli’s loss in the first doubles match, this left the team match score at 2-2, putting all the pressure on doubles duo Daniel LaPolla and Billy Phillips. Having already lost a set, 6-3, the sophomore and junior needed a strong second set, which they did. LaPolla’s placement and Billy’s power gave Beachwood’s Brock Hersch and Kaustav Milik fits.

The Beachwood pair didn’t falter in the third set and clinched a district title for the Bison.

“(LaPolla and Billy) hung in there,” Marino said. “Another break or two for second doubles or third singles, everything would have been reversed. You have to give (Beachwood) credit – when they needed the points, the crucial game points, they won. They deserved to win.”

Like his coach, Abdul-Aal expressed his pride in the way his teammates played all season and on Monday.

“The past two, three months, we’ve been day after day going as hard as we can at practice,” Abdul-Aal said. “It sucks that we have to lose in the finals of (the district tournament), but I couldn’t be more proud of my team. They played their best.”

Now, all that’s left for the Eagles is the singles and doubles district tournament this weekend in Canton. Abdul-Aal will try to qualify as a singles player for the second year in a row, while Cole and Nader will look to take the next step in the doubles tournament after making it to this stage the past two years.

Abdul-Aal said he will be motivated by this loss and wanting to end his career at the state tournament.

“In singles, I saw my draw already,” Abdul-Aal said. “I felt like if I go out there and play my game, I’m going to definitely get to state. I don’t want to go out my senior year without getting to Columbus.”