Lakeview junior leading upstart Bulldogs to 9-3 record

CORTLAND – Heading into his junior season, Lakeview boys tennis player Aaron Paczak faced a tough decision.

Paczak played basketball and tennis so far during his high school career, but with added schoolwork, he didn’t have the time to play basketball and practice tennis afterward. Despite Paczak’s love for basketball, the correct decision was clear, especially after qualifying for state as a doubles player in 2012.

“I like tennis a whole lot better,” Paczak said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love basketball, but I like tennis more. I’m pretty good at it, so I wanted to try and get better at it.”

That decision has paid dividends for both Paczak and the Bulldogs, as the No. 1 singles player has been one of the major reasons for Lakeview’s 9-3 start to the season. The start has exceeded expectations of coach Stephanie Hickey, who prior to the season said it would be a rebuilding year.

Paczak’s game has become more complete by playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments during the offseason, Hickey said. His serve has reached 110 miles per hour, according to Paczak, and that makes things difficult for opponents right from the start.

Having all the physical tools in place, the mental aspect of the sport is what Paczak’s coach is looking for him to improve, especially in high-pressure situations.

“His attitude and maturity on the court has just reached another level,” Hickey said. “His approach to the game is where I want to see him be at this stage as a junior. Now, we’re just working on the mental aspect of it. He’s got all the shots. We’re working on the mental focus.”

The mental focus seems to be there, based on his 11-1 individual record so far this season. He has that record not for a lack of trying to test himself.

Paczak has recorded wins over a player from Canton Central Catholic and Rob Stroup of University Schools on Tuesday. His only loss of the season came against Poland’s Garrett Gardner, who qualified for state as a doubles player his freshman two years ago. Paczak managed to take Gardner to 7-5 in the first set before losing, which was an improvement from their previous meeting at the USTA St. Patrick’s Classic presented by Paramount Tennis Club in Medina, on March 8-10. Gardner won the quarterfinal matchup of that tournament, 6-2, 6-0.

“Playing the best kids is what makes you better,” Paczak said. “I’m not going to get better by playing worse kids. I’m not going to get better by playing kids that are (on) the same (level) as me. Even if I lose, it’s more fun because you get a good match.”

Although the junior wants to play the best competition he can, he’s not afraid to help out his teammates who have less experience than him – even those with no experience before this season.

Hickey raved about how Paczak has grown into a leadership role on a team that lost seven seniors from the previous season. She said she appreciated having him on the team just for how he supports his teammates.

“We have a lot of new kids who just started playing come December, January,” Paczak said. “You got to teach them what it’s about and how to play it, so they can have fun.”

In terms of individual goals, Paczak is looking to return to state, this time in singles. Hickey doesn’t want him thinking too far into the future and to focus on preparing for the sectional tournament.

“(Going to state) is our ultimate goal, but we’re taking it in steps,” Hickey said. “Our first step is to get him ready for sectionals and for him to have the best sectional tournament he can have. We don’t want to think about state, we don’t want to think about districts. We just want to focus right now on sectionals, which is May 15.”

Still, his appearance in Columbus last year has him motivated to make the return trip this year.

“Going to state was so much fun,” Paczak said. “It makes me want to go back even more.”