Poland’s Gardner takes district crown

Going into the district tournament on Friday in Canton, Poland’s Garrett Gardner didn’t put too much thought on winning a district title, instead focusing on trying to make to Saturday and qualifying for the state tournament.

Having already accomplished his goal before returning to Canton on Saturday, the junior beat Lakeview’s Aaron Paczak in the district semifinals, 6-1, 6-3, and John F. Kennedy’s Jad Abdul-Aal in finals, 7-6 (4), 6-0, to claim the district crown.

“The feeling is unbelievable,” Gardner said. “I was thinking that I was going to make it to state this year, but I was honestly thinking that I wasn’t going to win the district title. I had a lot of confidence making it to state, but winning the (district tournament) is a dream come true. I played some of my best tennis.”

Considering the familiarity with both of his matchups in the final two rounds, Gardner had gameplans heading into each of his rounds.

He faced off against Paczak during the regular season, and although Paczak forced Gardner into a tiebreaker in the first set during that matchup, he was in control on Saturday, not allowing Paczak much life. The district final matchup was a repeat of the sectional final between the Kennedy and Poland aces.

“We had a couple of strategies worked out before he went in and played,” Poland coach Annie Marian said. “He was confident. He got into a rhythm, and he played tough all day. He knew he had to play well because Jad and Aaron are both great players.”

Abdul-Aal gave Gardner a run for his money in the first set of the final, forcing a tiebreaker. Gardner said that he expected the Kennedy senior to play well.

“He came out today firing,” Gardner said. “He was ready to go. When you’re playing Jad, you have to be on top of your toes everytime. So, it was a very, very tough first set, but I managed to win a few big points. It was very tough win for me today.”

Abdul-Aal’s three-set win over Gilmour Academy’s Weston Noall took a toll on him in the second set, however, and Gardner then cruised to claim a first seed at the state tournament next Friday at the Ohio State University Varsity Tennis Courts in Columbus. Abdul-Aal will be a second seed.

“It was more or less based on fitness,” Abdul-Aal said. “After my first match, I was extremely tired. It was almost a two-and-a-half hour match, and I didn’t really have enough time for my body to recover. That definitely played a factor in the final today.”

As for Paczak, he lost his match against Noall in the third-place match against Noall, 7-6 (6), 7-5. With this loss, Paczak will carry a fourth seed down to the Ohio State University Varsity Tennis Courts next Friday at the state meet.

Lakeview coach Stephanie Hickey said that Paczak played well against Noall but lost a few crucial point in that tightly contested match.

“It came to a few big points that did not go his way,” Hickey said. “I thought he hit the ball clean and was very relaxed, but just a few of the points did not go his way in the tiebreaker and the second set. He never gave up and fought a hard battle.”