Ursuline taking five to Mason

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Ursuline’s Austin Arfaras looks skyward for an impending overhead smash during a doubles match at this year’s Division II Boardman Sectional final. He and senior teammate, Luke Tsudis, lead five players to this Friday's and Saturday’s state tournament in Mason.

All Kent Blacksher could do is just watch.

Nervousness, hugging, crying. The Ursuline High School tennis coach went through a gamut of emotions a week ago at the Springside Racquet and Fitness Club in Akron.

His sophomore doubles team of Josh Khavari and Gavin Blacksher was on the verge of making this year’s Division II state tennis tournament as they had a team from Orange High School on the ropes in the second set. Eventually, Khavari and Gavin, Kent’s son, advanced to the district semifinals and secured a state bid for another Ursuline doubles team.

They won the third-place match as Ursuline sent five players to this year’s state tournament beginning today at the Linder Family Tennis Center in Mason, just outside of Cincinnati.

Kent is the Ursuline coach, but he’s also Gavin’s father. How does he manage the two?

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Ursuline's Luke Tsudis is one of five Irish players heading to this weekend's Division II boys state tennis tournament in Mason.

“I’ll let you know when I find that balance,” Kent said. “Honestly, it’s tough, You wear the coach hat first and the dad hat second.

“Something like this, you want the best for your kids. Those last few matches, specifically those last few points, to see he and Josh qualify was something I’ll never forget.”

Ursuline junior Greg Morgione headed back to state as the Irish’s lone singles player for the second straight season.

“I also know that there are no excuses for me this year,” Morgione said. “The clock is ticking for me in high school and I cannot afford to waste another trip down to state without a win like last year. Knowing that the opportunities aren’t endless, it really motivated me to work for this year.”

The senior doubles team of Luke Tsudis and Austin Arfaras eventually captured the Division II Akron District title.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Ursuline's Greg Morgione is one of five Irish players heading to this weekend's Division II boys state tennis tournament in Mason.

Arfaras remembers going to state in 2016 as a freshman with Tsudis. This time is different because the two are there to win a state title.

Arfaras listens to a lot of Meek Mill during workouts as part of his play list. He channels the intensity of his favorite professional player, Rafael Nadal, who has played during the Western & Southern Open during August at the same venue where Arfaras will be playing today.

“I love Rafa Nadal because of his intensity to the game, how athletic he is and try to model myself after him in how much heart he had to the game,” Arfaras said.

Morgione faces Niyanth Reddy of Dayton Miami Valley School. Arfaras and Tsudis begin play with Clyde’s Jacob Strudthoff and James Dry, while Khavari and Gavin start their state run with Ottawa-Glandorf’s Carter Welch and Colin Welch.

It’s going to be an eventful road trip for Ursuline since on Sunday the Irish face Ottawa Hills in Reynoldsburg in the semifinals of the Division II Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team championship. Wellington and Cincinnati Country Day are in the other semifinal. It’ll be a fun atmosphere this weekend.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Ursuline's Josh Khavari is one of five Irish players heading to this weekend's Division II boys state tennis tournament in Mason.

“We just pump each other up,” Arfaras said. “It’s a truly amazing atmosphere when you see us play. We’re not your typical tennis players. We give motivational speeches and just all get pumped.”

Today and Saturday’s state tennis is what’s at hand for this Ursuline team.

“Most of the kids will say that they are more excited for Sunday,” Morgione said. “Even with that in mind, we can’t look ahead to Sunday. We have to keep our eyes on this prize and we can worry about Sunday when the time comes.”

Taking five players to state and heading to the OTCA state team tournament on Sunday wouldn’t be possible without Kent’s assistant coach, Rick Gaydos. Blacksher calls him a sharp, analytical mind to what the Irish do on a daily basis. It’s not just him. It’s the parental backing as well.

“It’s hard to put into words, but we couldn’t do it without a great community. I’d be lost without my assistant coach Rick Gaydos,” Kent said.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Ursuline's Gavin Blacksher is one of five Irish players heading to this weekend's Division II boys state tennis tournament in Mason.