Area netters prepare for state

By Jose Nogueras - [email protected]

Shawnee’s Gabe Burke returns for a second straight trip as a singles player in the Division II state tournament.

Shawnee’s Gabe Burke returns for a second straight trip as a singles player in the Division II state tournament.

Gabe Burke joined an elite club when he qualified for the Division II state tennis tournament.

After finishing third at the district meet last week, the standout sophomore became the first singles players since Justin O’Neal to make it to state in consecutive years at Shawnee.

And like his fellow alumnae, Burke is hoping to make his mark at the top level. O’Neal was a four-time state qualifier (1993-1996) and three time state champion.

“I am just excited and happy to be able to go back down there,” Burke said. “I have worked all season and in the offseason to get there.”

Burke adds that he has seen progress in his game this year. After winning the Western Buckeye League No. 1 singles bracket for the second consecutive year, the Indian netter followed it up with a sectional crown. At districts, he finished third.

Burke said he felt a little pressure to make it back to state at the onset of the season, and one factor that changed from this year to last year was that he was no longer an “unknown.”

“I knew the people that I was going to play and the matches needed to get there so I was fine and able to do it,” Burke said. “Everyone knows who I am now. Last year people didn’t know me too well and thought I was some random kid from a nowhere town and now they know who I am and want to take me down.”

Being steady and level headed are signs of Burke’s growth as part of his mental approach, and being more consistent on the court has also improved for him.

“Confidence and maturity, along with still going out there and still having fun, which is the best part of all of this,” Shawnee head coach Martin Chavez said about Burke’s progress. “He is still putting everything together and not just getting the ball back. He is going out there with an emphasis and an initiative and a plan and executing it.

“Of course there is still things we want to work on to get to the next level but I am very proud of him and what he has accomplished.”

Burke admits he wasn’t playing his best at districts due to feeling sick — but not enough to derail his quest for a state berth.

As he fine tunes his game in preparation for state, Burke is ready to take on the challenge of battling for a top four finish.

“I definitely do feel confident,” Burke said. “I definitely got a good draw. I am facing someone tough but not the toughest I could face so I am feeling good about that.”

Chavez adds that he wants Burke to focus on things that he can control and everything on his side of the court. The two will be heading down Wednesday to get some early practice in on the courts to start getting a feel for the two-day event.

Burke will face Lucas Xue, a freshman from Gahanna Columbus Academy, in the first round at the Linder Family Tennis Center in Mason at 9 a.m. Friday.

“I want to try and win my first match at state then I will most likely end up playing the defending two-time state champ,” Burke said.

Chavez said they will be heading down to Mason Wednesday to get some practice in and hopefully alleviate some of those state jitters prior to his match Friday.

Chavez adds that it simple: stay focused and take it one point at a time and one match at a time.

“Don’t get ahead of ourselves, take it for all we can and don’t take it for granted,” Chavez said. “I think people are more aware of who he is and he is not as surprising. The other thing is too that he knows that he has the experience but there is also four other freshmen coming that are in the state bracket. I don’t think he has as much of a target there as he does here [in the district] because once you make it to this level you have a certain amount of skill and level to make it. I think at this point this kids are working on everything they can and go in fully focused as we are.”


Instant chemistry.

That is probably the best way to describe the success of Ottawa-Glandorf’s Eli Schmenk and Joshua Walls.

The Titan duo, who had played as doubles partners once during the regular season, qualified for the Division II state tournament after placing third at districts.

“I say they are both successful because they are both competitors,” O-G head coach Parker Schomaeker said. “They love to compete and they play pretty well together and the chemistry is there and this has been the goal all year and they have definitely earned it.”

During the regular season, Schmenk played as the No. 1 singles players and Walls was the No. 2 singles player for the Titans. At the Van Wert Invitational the two teamed up and took first place spots and the early seeds of success were planted there.

“They played one day together at the Van Wert Invite and there was five teams there and they won it,” Schomaeker said. “I thought they would go good together because either one of them are unselfish players and both guys just hit it in and let the other guy make mistakes and in doubles that team is going to win.

“They also have some big serves and that always helps a lot and I thought they could make a run in the tournament.”

Schmenk admits it was a little different at first switching from singles to doubles.

“We had the chemistry [at Van Wert] and honestly it is a little easier because the court is bigger and you have better shots,” Schmenk said.

Walls added, “I don’t know. The chemistry is there. We play well together and like [Schmenk] said we won the Van Wert invite and that was a big confidence booster.

The respect each has for each other translates on the court.

Walls praises Schmenk’s net play and big serve and Schmenk said Walls does every right and when he sees a line open he’ll take the shot and is not scared to make the big shot. Conversely if Schmenk hits a bad shot, Walls is there to pick him up.

The pair showed that after finishing third at sectionals and then followed it up with a fourth place finish at districts.

Schomaeker said sectionals was a little bit of test run for the pair.

“I don’t think they played as good as sectionals as they did at districts,” Schomaeker said. “I think Saturday at sectionals when they didn’t play well the first match and lost to a really good Bath team, I think that kind of helped them to get ready to what to expect…and I think it really helped them in district and I think that played a big part in why they moved on.”

From sectional to districts, Schomaeker adds that he has seen the two continue to grow as a doubles team.

“I think they are moving together better,” Schomaeker said. “You can’t always talk in the middle of a point and it kind of like it is unspoken, ‘if when he goes here I go here,’ type of stuff and just getting that down in the more they play.”

Walls said the two went into districts confident after the duo’s showing at sectionals.

“We knew districts was going to be more of a challenge,” Walls said. “Districts was definitely more of a test. Winning the first one against Bryan 6-4, 6-4 was nice and it was a test. The second match we had Port Clinton and that was a three-setter and we had to push through.”

“It was really huge,” Schmenk said. “When it really showed that we had confidence was against Port Clinton. We went down 0-1 and Josh and I talked a little ‘if we lose we are done,’ so decided to let’s just go for it.”

The pair will face its toughest challenge of their young partnership when they head to state as they face the best of the best.

The Titan tandem will take on the Cincinnati Indian Hills pair of RJ Poffenberger and Tejas Pisati at the Linder Family Tennis Center at 9 a.m. Friday.

“Win or lose you are going to get our best shot,” Schomaeker said. “That is all I can ask for them. When you get down to state and those guys who have had lessons and tennis is all they do all year and play indoors. We don’t have anyone who plays indoors. We have no single sport athletes on our team. We think of tennis the first day practice. We are not going to hit the ball as hard as they but we are going to give them all they can handle.”

Shawnee’s Gabe Burke returns for a second straight trip as a singles player in the Division II state tournament.’s Gabe Burke returns for a second straight trip as a singles player in the Division II state tournament.

By Jose Nogueras

[email protected]

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