Firestone tennis team rebounds to take league title
WEST AKRON — Firestone High School tennis head coach Craig Sampsell said his team entered the season with the goal of finishing with a .500 record. While the goal may seem modest, the team was returning from a winless campaign.
“Last year was a year for building character. We did not win a single match last year,” he said. “What we did gain from our winless season was a stronger bond amongst the players and a sense of ownership. They were determined this year to make every effort to improve individually. The captains ran their own practices for all the players months before the official start of the season.”
The result for Firestone was an 11-7 record this season.
“Not only did we improve our overall record immensely, we also won the City Series Championship,” the coach said. “We have had a lot of success in the past 10-plus years that I have coached at Firestone, but I have to say I will always remember this season because of the amazing turnaround.”
Sampsell said the team’s biggest strength this year was “our attitude.”
“After going winless last year, the ladies were not afraid to lose. We had already been there and survived, so this year we weren’t tentative and didn’t tighten up when we were down in some matches,” he said. “There were several matches won this year by the girls in tie-breaks and multiple deuce games that last year we wouldn’t have won. It’s truly tough to think of any weaknesses this year. If I had to think of any, I would have to say we did get a little comfortable with winning. In that, I mean we started off 4-0 and I think we lost our edge a little after that and lost a couple of matches that we shouldn’t have. Given that, though, the girls always rebounded and our record shows that.”
This year’s team featured a pair of seniors, Sampsell said.
“We have two seniors leaving us this year, Morgan Schroeder and Clara Dorfi,” he said. “Morgan has been with us for awhile and has been the heart and soul of the team. Clara joined the team this year and immediately made a positive impact.”
According to the coach, a “big factor” in the team’s success this year was the addition of Mary Yu.
“Mary came to Firestone this year and became our overall No. 1 player after just a couple of matches,” he stated. “Not only did her strong play help us win matches, but by stepping into that No. 1 spot, she allowed other girls to play positions on the team that they were more suited for.”
Sampsell said he is happy his players had the opportunity to win a league title this season.
“The most notable part of our season was winning the City Series Championship,” he said. “In the past, there wasn’t a championship for girls tennis because there are only two teams — Firestone and Ellet. [Before the season], I suggested that we schedule three matches throughout the season and make it a best-of-three championship.”
The plan is to continue with that set-up until more city schools get involved in the sport, the coach said.
“Next year, if the third match isn’t needed, we will play it anyway and award individual honors,” he stated. “It’s my hope that this will create a greater interest in high school tennis in Akron Public Schools and the city in general.”
Sampsell said his team will look to improve even more next year.
“Next season, we need to focus on beating the teams that we are better than and staying focused and motivated for every match. Our intensity level needs to be consistent no matter who we are playing,” he said. “Last year was a year for building and working on our mechanics. This year, we worked on playing smarter and setting up points. Next year, we’ll continue on playing smarter by identifying our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, then capitalizing on them.”
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