Sunday, December 21, 2014

OHS tennis players overcome lack of respect

By Greg Mast/Herald Sports Editor | 5/16/2014

All season the Ottawa High School tennis players had to prove themselves over and over.

First, they had to impress new coach Eric Sparks.

All season the Ottawa High School tennis players had to prove themselves over and over.

First, they had to impress new coach Eric Sparks.

“Coming as a new coach, I told them ‘I don’t care what happened last year. It was open game,’” Sparks said.

Ottawa did not have a lot of respect heading into regionals, especially senior Jonathan Kuczmarski.

He received the seventh seed in singles, despite a winning record and placing 11th last year at state.

Kuczmarski finished second at regionals and qualified for his second state appearance.

Vince Sylvester and Alex Reed had to prove to Sparks they needed to be matched together in doubles.

The pair — who are best friends — began playing doubles together in the off-season.

“Me and Alex were a good doubles team all summer long,” Sylvester, who qualified for state last year in singles, said.

The pair placed fifth at regionals and qualified for state. The 4A State Tournament started Friday and ends today in Winfield.

“They have been dedicated all season,” Sparks said. “Coming in before practice and after practice. It definitely paid off for them. They should have a shot if they play well at state.”

Kuczmarski (20-9) received a bye in the first round of state with his second-place finish.

“It will help him out a lot with him being there last year,” Sparks said. “He knows the format and how they run it. He knows what it takes now. He know what he needs to do.”

Kuczmarski felt slighted at the regional.

“I was a little mad getting a seven seed,” he said. “I had something to prove. I went in there with guns a blazing. Last year, I played my best tennis at state. Last year, I did not expect to medal. I can compete with the best people at state.”

Ottawa has played good competition all season, which may have put a dent in the win-loss column, but it made them tougher in the long run.

“I would rather they play good competition than a bunch of weaker teams,” Sparks said. “That has helped make them better players.”

Kuczmarski’s goal this season is place in the top-10 at state.

“It is going to take me playing at the top of my game,” Kuczmarski said. “Playing consistent and trying new things too.”

Sparks said Kuczmarski has a consistent game.

“A lot of points, he waits for the other player to make mistakes,” Sparks said. “That is a good quality to have in tennis. He is real aggressive getting to the net. There is not a lot of singles players that serve and go in a volley. He has won several matches throughout the year by getting up there. He has a solid overall game. He has improved in every aspect of the game.”

Kuczmarski never even thought about being a state participant when he first started playing tennis.

“My sophomore year, I did it for fun,” he said. “It is really surprising going to state for my second year in only my third year of playing tennis.”

Sylvester and Reed (17-10) had a roller-coaster season.

They started the season with a couple of wins, then lost six and won seven straight.

“They have been streaky this season,” Sparks said. “They were facing good teams from the start. It took a little while to get the connection.

“They have grown a lot. They have worked well together. They fit together from the start. They are really good friends. That helps a lot. They support each other.”

Sylvester feels being friends helps them click together.

“Being best friends helps as we know what each other is thinking,” Sylvester said. “We mesh well together. We don’t get down on ourselves.”

Sparks said the pair has been strong mentally all season.

“Doubles is so much different than singles,” he said. “You have to be on your feet and be ready. That is the big mental part of tennis. They have been strong all year. They have kept their composure and made their opponent beat them.”

Sylvester/Reed fell 6-4, 6-3 in first-round match to Andover Central. Sylvester said the first match would be tough.

Sparks hopes the three Cyclones play loose and free at state.

“Try to treat it as another meet,” the coach said. “Don’t get too tight or nervous.”

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