SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — After being crowned district champions last year, the Shawnee doubles pair of Isaac Hanover and Michael Rutter were excited to make it to the Division II state tournament.
But after an early exit, winning one match, the pair made it their goal this year to make it back and although they did not win the district title Saturday, the two are heading back to state in hopes of making a deeper run in the state tournament.
They will face Circleville Logan Elm’s Avery Clouse and Jonathan Resinger in the first round Friday at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
“I think getting there last year was certainly a huge accomplishment for us but I don’t think we truly understood the level at which the other teams that go to state play at until we actually got there and saw that so I think going down and seeing D-II and D-I state players opened our eyes that if we want to make it back next year and make a run we would have to work through the off season because we play singles during the season.”
Rutter is excited to get back to state and said the chemistry between Hanover and him has improved this year.
“We connect a lot better on the court and our puzzle pieces fit together a lot better,” Rutter added.
First-year head coach Nate Higgins has seen a dramatic improvement from last year.
“I know they are super pumped,” Higgins said. “They were both there as juniors last year so they are really hungry as seniors and this is their last chance. I know they are expecting to make a decent run at it, and we are expecting the same thing.”
Higgins added these two have nerves of steel when it comes to the upcoming competition and they are playing with a lot of confidence.
“I think they are comfortable and very much ready,” Higgins said. “I think both of them have a lot of confidence and it shows in their tennis games as well. They get shaken every once in a while but they are able to shake it off.”
Because the two play singles during the regular season, the drive to make it back to state began last summer as the two looked to find time to play doubles in order to hone their skills as individuals and as doubles partners.
The two also worked throughout the season with Jeff Brown, tennis director at Westwood Tennis and Fitness Center, for additional advice on doubles play. Hanover added that knowing the two were going to play as a doubles team during the postseason helped their confidence level and technical game.
During the regular season, the two excelled in singles play and only once did the duo play as a doubles team at the annual Port Clinton event. At that tournament, the chemistry between the two was strengthened as well as their game play. The pair finished first in the No. 1 doubles competition.
“Honestly what I saw in that tournament (Port Clinton) and it was the first time seeing them play together and just watching them in that tournament you could see the confidence immediately and they didn’t skip a beat,” Higgins said. “They needed the work they needed to do in the No. 1 and 2 singles divisions but the hope and the goal was to get to state (as a doubles team) and we are just continuing to fine tune some things on the court.”
Rutter also pointed to the Port Clinton tournament that each of them said they felt good about their play as a doubles team.
“That is when we really started to figure out how much we have improved,” Rutter said. We hit harder and we were less tense on the court and we moved a bit better strategy-wise on how we moved on the court and we think a lot different so it is mental and physical.”
After both won their singles brackets in the Western Buckeye League tournament, the two joined up again for the postseason.
In the sectionals, Rutter and Hanover collected the sectional title but were not so fortunate in successfully defending their district title after getting beat by Lexington’s Luke and Blake Webster. Rutter and Hanover defeated the Lexington pair in the district semifinals in 2017.
“We got second place but in district and were going back to state so we were happy about that but at the same time it was rough because last year we were district champs and our games have developed and we came up short,” Hanover said. “I think losing to them actually motivated us a lot more and that is a big silver lining for us because I know the last couple of practices we have been working with Jeff (Brown), we have worked hard and hopefully that will compensate for us going in as a two seed instead of a one seed and building our confidence back up and taking that loss and turning it into something positive.”
The loss in the district final served several purposes. One it showed the two have some work to do and that at state the competition is going to be even tougher.
“That adds a ton (of motivation) because our weaknesses were definitely emphasized in that loss big time and now we know what we need to work on and I think most of it was mental for us,” Rutter said. “We know what we need to do going to state because they will be playing at that level and avoid the shakiness and play up instead of playing down.”