OBERLIN — Steve Smykal’s four-year career with Highland’s boys tennis team reaches a crescendo today.
Smykal and Hornets junior Michael Hutchings are one of 16 doubles teams to qualify for the Oberlin College Division I District, putting them two victories away from a trip to the state tournament.
“It’s the ultimate goal of every player to make it to state, so we’re just sort of living the dream right now,” said Smykal, an All-Gazette selection in each of his first three seasons. “We’ve accomplished a lot, so I’m not going to be super upset if we lose, but it would be awesome to keep it going a little while longer.”
Cloverleaf junior Jacob Dunbar — a two-time state qualifier — will join the Hornets at districts. Dunbar is undefeated this spring and claimed his third sectional championship last weekend at Medina High.
Though Smykal played first singles and Hutchings manned the second singles spot throughout the regular season, they paired up for the postseason because Highland coach Lisa Reynolds believed they could do more damage as a duo.
Reynolds’ faith in her players was rewarded at the Medina Sectional, when they finished third after eliminating No. 4 seeds Grant Ring and Gavin Cona of Walsh Jesuit in the quarterfinals. Smykal and Hutchings swept the match 7-5, 7-5 to claim their first district berth.
“We had a lot of friends come and support us against Walsh, so they definitely helped us win,” Smykal said. “Michael and I also were on the same page all day and played really well.”
The Hornets will be faced with a similar win-or-go-home scenario at 9 a.m. today when they play their district opener against Christian Zuber and Yaw Boakye of St. Ignatius.
Zuber and Boakye were the runners-up at the Oberlin College Sectional, and are also seeking their initial state appearance.
Unlike many other district qualifiers, the Highland and St. Ignatius teams are familiar with each other, having played earlier this season at the Medina Doubles Tournament.
Zuber and Boakye emerged with a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 1-0 (10-6) victory over Smykal and Hutchings, who were playing their first match together in 2013.
“We lost a tough, third-set tiebreaker to start the day,” Smykal recalled. “That’s another reason why we’re very excited about districts. In addition to being there for the first time, it will be pretty fun to see how we do against those guys now that we’ve been regularly teaming up.”
If Smykal and Hutchings advance to the round of eight, they must win one of their next two matches to move on to state.
They likely would play Canton Sectional champions Rob DeMarco and Mike O’Connor of North Canton Hoover in the quarterfinals.
Regardless of who they wind up playing, Smykal guarantees he and Hutchings are going to have fun.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, so we always try and stay relaxed by telling jokes on the court,” he said. “Michael also has a lot of energy, which makes it fun. His forehand is really good, so that complements him playing on the deuce side and me playing on the ad side.
“We’re looking to come forward (during points) while staying positive all the time. As long as we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.