Highland junior Steve Smykal is an avid soccer player and a cycling aficionado.
Tennis, however, is his passion — and the sport that has become his calling card.
“I’ve learned a lot over the last two seasons and gained valuable experience from every match,” Smykal said. “But more than anything else, I’ve had a lot of fun playing for our team and meeting so many nice people.
“It’s something that I look forward to all year, so I’m really excited about this season.”
With good reason, as the two-time All-Gazette selection is one of the top returning players in Medina County and the Suburban League.
Smykal begins his second year as the Hornets’ first singles player with a wealth of victories and accomplishments already on his resume.
The right-hander owns a 31-26 career record, including 14-14 at the top singles spot and 4-2 in the OHSAA Tournament.
The latter mark is especially impressive, seeing as Smykal played singles in both postseasons, reaching the Solon Division I Sectional round of 32 as a freshman, then gaining a spot in the Sweet 16 as a sophomore.
“Steve is a wonderful leader and a successful all-around young man,” Highland coach Lisa Reynolds said. “He leads by example with his hard work and focus. (Last year) he also rose up and won some big matches.”
Tops on that list was Smykal’s third-set tiebreaker victory over Lakewood St. Edward state qualifier Jeff Williams last April 27. The clutch triumph not only made Northeast Ohio coaches take notice of his skills, it gave the perennially underrated Hornets a 3-2 upset of the Eagles.
“Beating St. Ed’s 3-2 was awesome,” Smykal said, focusing on the team’s victory instead of his own. “It came in the (Ohio Tennis Coaches Association) tournament, so knocking them out was a pretty big moment for all of us.”
Smykal also finished fourth in the first singles bracket at the 2011 Rocky River Invitational and the SL Tournament, sending him into the offseason with a wealth of confidence. It also prompted him to enter United States Tennis Association events in order to prepare for his third varsity campaign.
But before returning to the courts, the 5-foot-10 center midfielder hit the pitch for the Hornets’ boys soccer team.
Though the two sports have next-to nothing in common, Smykal said there is some carryover from his fall endeavor to tennis.
“Playing soccer gets me in very good shape, so my conditioning really improves,” he explained. “It also helps my footwork and speed and agility, which is a great benefit to my tennis game.”
In turn, Smykal’s conditioning is a great benefit to his tennis teammates, who will look to him as their captain and most experienced talent this year.
Highland posted the second-best record in the county last spring at 11-7, but has already taken a major hit with senior Brian Davis suffering a season-ending injury.
Yet, Smykal remains optimistic about the Hornets’ chances and has set a lofty target for them to shoot for.
“Losing Brian is a big blow and we’re all bummed about it, but our No. 1 goal is to finish better than we did last year,” he said. “We’ve got great coaches and I really like how everybody comes ready to play every day, and feeds off each other in practice.
“We’re very prepared and very focused, and we all get along really well. That’s why I know it’s going to be a good year.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.