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The Suburbanite
  • Sun shines on Jackson tennis in Federal League title run

  • Mission No. 1 accomplished.

    The Jackson boys tennis team entered the weekend with a chance to realize its first major goal of the season and came away with a win by the closest of margins to capture the Federal League championship.

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  • Mission No. 1 accomplished.
    The Jackson boys tennis team entered the weekend with a chance to realize its first major goal of the season and came away with a win by the closest of margins to capture the Federal League championship.
    The Polar Bears edged North Canton Hoover 37-36 at Stadium and Weis Parks, claiming a league championship to add another accomplishment to a season that has already included an unbeaten mark in league play during the regular season.
    After suffering a 3-2 loss to Solon on Friday, Jackson entered the weekend with a mark of 12-3, with its other two losses coming against state-ranked Copley and Walsh Jesuit. Prior to the loss to Solon, the Polar Bears had won their previous six matches by scores of either 4-1 or 5-0. Their consistency belies the fact that all three of their top singles players are freshmen in their first year of varsity competition.
    “Joey Thomas, Jake Zalenski and Anthony Kanam are all first-year starters  and they have become the core of our strength,” coach Lee Fortner said. “Of course they are all very  good players, but they have also demonstrated that they are great competitors — they play with fight and determination.  Most importantly, they play fair and conduct themselves properly on the court.”
    In the championship match against Hoover, the trio of freshmen did what they have so many times this season, sweeping the singles matches to propel their team to victory.
    Thomas bested Hoover’s Rob Demarco in first singles 6-3, 6-1, Zalenski defeated Hoover’s Michael O’Connor 6-3, 6-3 at second singles and  Kanam finished off the singles, sweep with a 6-4, 6-0 defeat of the Vikings’ Tim Bruin 6-4, 6-0 in the third singles match.
    “All three are consistent players — they come to the match ready to compete, and they have helped raise the bar for the rest of the team,” Fortner added. “ Most often, they face juniors and deniors, and they continue to win week after week.”
    Thomas’ only loss this season was to Walsh junior Aaron Sandberg, who finished third in the state tournament last season. Fortner pointed to Thomas’ mental toughness and on-court demeanor as two of the primary reasons he is able to consistently compete with upperclassmen. His defeat of Demarco had to wait a while, as Demarco’s semifinal match ran long, leaving Thomas to wait around with the realization that the outcome of his match could well determine the title.
    The match didn’t start until an hour after the other two singles matches and two doubles matches between Jackson and Hoover were already underway, making the Thomas-Demarco battle the focal point of the afternoon.
    Winning the league championship was the first goal for the year, but the Polar Bears have bigger aspirations as they move forward.
    Page 2 of 2 - Along the way to their league title, the Polar Bears have found themselves constantly adjusting on the fly to work around inclement weather, like every other team in Northeast Ohio. Fortner cited the wilingness of his players’ parents to adjust schedules to make practices and rescheduled matches happen and with a team dominated by freshmen instead of juniors and seniors, that flexibility has been a must. All of these elements have combined for a special season that has both coach and players thinking bigger.
    “Jackson has been known to have good teams in the past, but this could be the beginning of a new order,” Fortner said, pointing to the depth provided by sophomore Mark Dickerhoof and junior Mark Spencer. “The sectional tournament starts May 15 and we hope that multiple Jackson players will qualify to move on to the district tournament in Oberlin.”
    Reach Andy at 330-899-2872 or Andy.Harris@TheSuburbanite.com.
    On Twitter: @aharrisBURB