COLUMBUS — Put ’em on the wall.
Their state tennis tournament debut couldn’t have gone any better as senior Jake Chilcote and sophomore Owan Gongwer blanked Ashtabula St. John’s Jimmy Severino and Jacob Timonere 6-0, 6-0 in Thursday’s first round of Division II doubles to earn a permanent home inside Lexington High School.
“It means we’re on the Wall of Fame,” Chilcote said.
They needed to win one match at state to become WOFers and to clinch second team All-Ohio honors. They did so emphatically on a day when all five Lexington qualifiers had their moments even if getting to Friday’s final two rounds wasn’t in the cards for any of them. .
Chilcote and Gongwer fell in the quarterfinals to state title favorites Chika Nwaozuzu and Gabi Kalir 6-1, 6-2 from Pepper Pike Orange while Lex’s other duo of sophomore Dylan Catanese and junior Ethan Remy lost 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3 to Dayton Oakwood’s Arick Baldwin and Noah Royce in the first round.
As for junior Karl Etzel, his so-called reward for becoming Lex’s first district single champion since 2015 was a first-rounder against Cincinnati Seven Hills’ Avi Mahajan, a second-team All-Ohioan last year. Mahajan won 6-1, 6-4 even though Etzel put up a good fight, especially in the second set.
“We talk about it all the time, very few athletes can get to state,” coach Ron Schaub said. “It’s a great experience. No complaints.”
Whatever happened Thursday, the Minutemen knew they were going to live to see at least one more day this season. They are the Northwest District champion in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association state team tournament and have advanced to the Final Four on Sunday at New Albany High School.
Lex will face Columbus Academy in one DII semifinal at 10 a.m., with Pepper Pike Orange (near Cleveland) and Cincinnati Seven Hills meeting in the other semi.
Only 18 of the 48 DII players in the singles and doubles draws when play began Thursday made it to state in both the OHSAA individual and OTCA team tournaments and five of those players are from Lex.
Orange had the most DII players qualifying for both tourneys with six, followed by Lex’s quintet. Seven Hills had four and Columbus Academy had three.
“It’s a great feeling and honor to play at the top level in different (state) tournaments,” Gongwer said. “It’s just the experience and environment, just the feeling of knowing you’re among the best players.”
Knowing there would always be Sunday took some of the pressure off for Chilcote, the only senior in Lex’s lineup and an Otterbein University commit.
“It’s comforting to know that I could play every match here as if it’s my last, but it isn’t my last match,” he said. “I have two more Sunday.”
Even though they knew they faced tough odds against Orange in the quarters, Chilcote and Gongwer did everything possible to put themselves in the best position for that challenge by building momentum in the first round while barely breaking a sweat doing so.
“Our thought was to win the first match, hopefully not drain too much energy and try some things to stay with (Orange) because anything can happen,” Chilcote said. “Win or not win, this is a good experience.”
Nwaozuzu was a state champion in doubles two years ago for Orange and last year finished third in singles even though an injury forced him to serve underhand for the tournament.
While Nwaozuzu and his partner proved too big an obstacle, Chilcote and Gongwer finished the OHSAA post-season 7-3, losing no more than three games in six of their wins, including two 0 and 0 matches.
Other than Thursday’s quarters, their other losses were to Catanese and Remy in the sectional and district finals.
Not much got by Chilcote and Gongwer at the net in their first round win and they played the angles perfectly, making sure there were not a lot of rallies.
“We were able to have quick points,” Gongwer said. “So there weren’t a lot of times where you had to work the point from the baseline and set up a shot. It was more two or three shot rallies.”
Chilcote played doubles most of the regular season with Catanese but obviously found chemistry with Gongwer in short order.
“Neither one of us puts pressure on the other person and neither of us is a hot head,” Gongwer said. “We know that if one of us makes a mistake, the other person won’t care. We’ll just get the next point.”
As well as Chilcote and Gongwer played in the first round, it was Catanese and Remy who had the best shot of making it to the second day and earning first team All-Ohio honors.
Had they gotten by their first match, they would have played a team from University School in the quarters that Catanese and Chilcote beat en route to a title at the Medina Invitational.
Unfortunately, Catanese and Remy couldn’t capitalize on big opportunities. Leads of 5-3 in the first set and 5-4 in the tiebreaker got away. And Catanese was serving with a 2-1 lead in the third set only to get broken.
“Some games just got away,” Schaub said. “That team was good; that team was tough. I just felt like if we could have won that, we would have won the next match. It was missed opportunities. I like the way we had been playing. We had a couple of chances to do it. We just couldn’t do it.”
Nobody from Lex had been hotter coming into the tournament than Etzel. But he had a tougher draw than you might expect for a district champ. His lefty opponent. Mahajan, played No. 1 for Seven Hills last year and made it to the state quarters in singles but dropped to No. 2 to make room for Cole Cozens, a move-in from Canada.
That one-two punch they give Seven Hills might make them the favorite in Sunday’s team tournament.
“That kid’s good,” Schaub said of Mahajan. “He might be the third best kid in the (singles) draw. Karl got it to 5-4 in the second set. It just wasn’t quite enough.”
Chilcote is trying to savor his first trip to OHSAA state, especially since there will be no other opportunities for him.But the time for reflection will need to wait.
“It’s hard to say I’m taking in any of it because it’s moving so quick,” he said. “Week by week there’s a new (challenge). I go to bed at night thinking about tennis and I wake up every morning thinking about tennis.”
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: ‘No complaints’: Lex duo earns All-Ohio; stage not too big for Minutemen