Firestone boys tennis head coach happy with improvement
WEST AKRON — In 2013, the Firestone High School boys tennis team finished with a 7-9 overall record and in second place in the City Series.
“We really underachieved,” said head coach Craig Sampsell.
Through April 28 of this season, however, Firestone was out to a 4-3 start — including a perfect 3-0 mark in the City Series.
“I knew that some of the players had worked hard in the offseason, but I didn’t expect them to come back as strong as they did,” the coach said. “After the first or second practice, I walked over to [sophomore] Josiah Hackett and I told him that he had really improved a lot. I said I was very impressed with his game and how much he had been working on it. He smiled and said, ‘Thanks, I was waiting to see if you noticed.’ Josiah worked hard in the offseason and improved his game immensely. He’s been taking it really seriously.”
According to Sampsell, two more players who have shown “major improvement” throughout this season are M’Shinda Broaddus and Joey Aronhalt.
“M’Shinda is a senior and has taken a leadership role this year. He’s really coming into his own as both a player and a motivator. It’s great to see when players mature — not just with their game, but with their responsibility to the team. We are a young team with three seniors and mostly sophomores. M’Shinda is our veteran,” the coach said. “Joey Aronhalt has really stepped into the third singles spot well. If I need a win on a court, I know Joey will come through.”
Sophomore Michael Cohill is a newcomer who has really helped to strengthen this year’s team, Sampsell said.
“Michael Cohill is new to the team this year and is also new to the game. He has taken to the sport quickly and has some great natural mechanics for the game,” the coach said. “He has become a quality contributor, and I am looking forward to watching him improve his game. If he puts in the time, he will really be a strong player.”
Rounding out Firestone’s senior class this season are Matt Williams and Alex Maguire.
“Matt is very dedicated to the team. He has a lot of extracurriculars, but he always makes sure to give his all when he’s playing,” the coach said. “Alex is a four-year player who has been vital to the program. He’s the kind of guy who goes out and recruits for the team. He’s always encouraging the guys.”
As the regular season winds down, Sampsell said his players will need to work on improving their consistency.
“Too often, we let silly mistakes steal wins from us,” he stated. “If we could be more consistent, we will have a lot more wins.”
Sampsell said his team will need to play at its best while continuing to navigate a difficult schedule.
“We play some tough competition — a lot of the powerhouses in the area that we’ve always played — and they have a lot of kids that play year-round,” he said. “But if you aren’t playing anyone that’s better than you, then you aren’t learning and you can’t get better yourself. It really helps us to prepare for when we play the teams in the City [Series].”
Firestone’s top goals for this season, Sampsell said, are to win the City Series and to take four out of five individual court awards at the City tournament.
“I really think that it’s achievable,” he said. “I really think we can do it, and I think the guys are excited to get it done. I think with the team we have, we have a legitimate chance of sweeping all five courts.”
Sampsell, who is in his 13th season as Firestone’s head boys tennis coach, said the program is in a strong place.
“Overall, this is a great group of boys who really are positive role models for many,” said Sampsell, who is assisted by Chris Kuzas. “We are having success right now, and with the young players we have, it’s great to know that it will continue.”
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