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At St. John’s Jesuit, tennis serves as both an individual and team sport with the Titans aimed at being the best in the state at both.
While the sport is inherently focused on individual achievement, St. John’s also emphasizes team success. The Titans are looking to reach the semifinals of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament for a 10th consecutive year. St. John’s won title in 2011.
“One of the things the kids talk about is for the rest of their lives there will be a banner up in the school,” said co-head coach Jim Davis. “We’re looking for a second banner.”
The Titans are 5-1 this season and won the Lakewood St. Edward Invitational on April 5-6. The only loss is to Cincinnati Sycamore.
St. John’s just missed reaching the state final last year and finished fourth. Co-head coach Justin Swiger said the individual and team tournaments are treated equally.
“The individual title is great because they can be proud of it because they worked on their own,” Swiger said. “They might even have to beat their own teammates to get that as well. Colleges also put more emphasis on the individual championship.”
But Swiger said the team is more about school representation.
“You take the team title back to the school under the team name,” he said. “Maybe you have a couple guys on the team that aren’t good enough to win an individual state title themselves, so to give them a state title is great.”
No. 1 singles player Rajeev Laungani said he loves the team aspect. The sophomore has a 5-4 record this year.
“As much as it’s an individual sport, on a team you get so much more support,” Laungani said. “Overall there are people cheering and pumping you up. It’s a brotherhood. It so nice to have that. Last year we were really close to the state final. I think we can win it this year.”
The OTCA team tournament starts Wednesday and the Titans have a first-round bye. The individual state tournament, which is sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, begins May 17 with sectionals.
St. John’s brothers Ryan Brown and Kevin Brown were the only are players to advance to the final day of Division I competition at the individual tournament last season.
Ryan, a senior, and Kevin, a junior, won the district title. They were within a point of reaching the state final, but fell to Sycamore’s Dylan Stern and Deepak Indrakanti in the semifinal and finished fourth.
“Doubles has always been my thing,” Ryan Brown said. “I like the intensity of it because it goes so quick.”
Kevin Brown said it’s great to practice every day with potential future college players.
“It’s definitely a team sport. We push each other to be better every day,” he said. “Our lineup is even stronger this year. We have a strong singles lineup. I think we can do it.”
While the Browns won't be doubles partners for the state team tournament, they may partner up again for the individual tournament. The Titans play against each other during a two-week period in “challenge matches” prior to the season to determine the lineup for the team tournament.
Ryan Brown is teamed with fellow senior Jonah Carter on the No. 1 doubles team and have a 7-2 record. Kevin Brown, who played at first singles last season, is undefeated at No. 3 singles with a 9-0 record.
Junior Adam Zychowicz is 7-0 at No. 2 singles. The second doubles team of junior Trevor Majdalani and sophomore Ryan Issa is 7-2.
“We’re so even all the way down the line,” Laungani said. “Every day is different. I think I’ve played well.”
Davis said he was not surprised that Laungani, who played No. 2 doubles as a freshman, moved up to the top spot.
“All of these kids work so hard,” Davis said. “That is why we have them play. You just don’t know how it will shake out.”
The Brown brothers earned All-Ohio first team honors last spring.
“We’ve played so many times — probably hundreds,” Ryan Brown said. “We play doubles as much as possible. I have a special bond with him. I know when he is getting angry. I know what to do to pump him up. And he knows what to do to pump me up. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
At 5 feet, 8 inches, Ryan relies on quickness staying on the back line with a solid ground stroke. Kevin is a 6-foot-2 left hander who has a bigger serve-and-volley game.
“We know where each other is going to be on the court so we play pretty well together,” Kevin said. “We have a lot of chemistry. We play doubles a lot during the summer. We push each other each day.
“We have pretty different games so playing against each other helps us work on stuff we aren’t as good at. He’s helped me with conditioning, and I’ve helped him with agility.”
Ryan Brown, who will play at Denison University, said the team record and tournament are just as important as individual records.
“Everyone relies on your match,” he said. “So even though you are playing just for yourself, you also have others relying on you. They want to see you winning because you are a team and you need three matches to win. Everyone has to do their part.”
Davis said his lineup for the individual tournament won't be set until closer to the start of sectionals.
There are 47 players in the program hoping to crack a spot among the top seven.
To win the OTCA team tournament, the Titans will likely have to get past defending state champion Upper Arlington and avenge a loss to Cincinnati Sycamore.
“Once these guys get to this level and come to St. John’s … they know how competitive this team is and how much work they have to put in,” Swiger said.