Weekly Feature

2017-04-20 / Sports

EA tennis to begin life without three-time state tourney participant


Tennis is one of the sports in high school athletics where, even though there is an important team aspect during the regular season, the focus turns toward the individual once the postseason rolls around.

And while those talented athletes who excel in an individual-based team sport tend to shine brightest once the regular season ends, that doesn’t mean their absence once they graduate won’t be noticed by the team.

This spring, East Aurora is one of those teams experiencing the loss of one of its great players — and in the Blue Devils’ case, they might just be moving on this spring without the greatest player in program history when they take to the courts without Jack McClaren. Though he is just one player, his importance to the squad during his time at East Aurora was profound, as McClaren — who advanced to the consolation semifinals at states in his best showing in three tries — finished his career a perfect 48-0 record against league competition.

He also won both the ECIC and Section VI championships in both his junior and senior seasons, something that few Western New York high school players have ever accomplished.

Needless to say, there will be some big shoes to fill at the top of East Aurora’s singles ladder. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that the Blue Devils lost four other starters off a squad that finished second in the regular-season standings to Amherst. Yet at the same time, coach John Hycner is cautiously optimistic about his squad’s chances for success this spring.

“With the amount of talent and depth that we have, I am optimistic that we can win our division and send more than three players to the ECIC tournament,” Hycner said. “But, this ultimately depends on how hard the players work and how much they improve throughout the course of the season. I can say that the battles at practice have been awesome already. We have so many players who have similar talent and ability that I honestly don’t know where each player stands on the ladder yet.

“Usually by this time, the starting lineup has been established and I have a good idea where each player ranks on the team. The battles at practice are still ongoing to determine where each player ranks — and it’s been extremely fun to watch.”

Among the returning players from last year’s squad, sophomore Jack Gurbacki and eighth-grader Jake Sigeti appear to have the inside track at earning considerable match time at second and third singles, respectively. Gurbacki, a third-year team member who started at third singles the past two years, “is a great, consistent player who is getting even better each year,” Hycner said. Sigeti, meanwhile, is making a bigger jump this season after playing as an exhibition doubles player last year.

Seventh-grader Anthony Markello, meanwhile, is looking like the team’s starter at first singles “unless someone challenges him and beats him out,” Hycner said. Markello has taken lessons for many years and “is an extremely talented and fundamentally sound player, especially given his age.”

“It will be fun to see him get even better in the years to come,” Hycner said.

Senior co-captains Matt Boss and Jake Ellis, meanwhile, currently hold down the first doubles position. Boss started most of the team’s matches at second doubles last spring, but Ellis was not with the squad, as he was an exchange student in Germany last year.

“Matt could also challenge for a singles spot at any time this year, and Jake has made it clear that he is a top-five player on our team in his return to us this year,” Hycner said.

Co-captain Sam Chassy, Travis Wier, Arjuna Velayudam and Dylan Schaefer, all of whom are all returning seniors, also help provide a veteran presence for the Blue Devils. All of them have improved since last year and any one of them could easily end up becoming a starter, Hycner said.

Other newcomers to the team who could vie for some match time include seniors Evan Ensminger and John D’Aguanno, juniors Alex Karalus and Dan Phillips, and freshmen Mikey Ensminger and Randy Gacioch. All six have experience with the sport at some level, with many having taken private lessons.

“John played at his previous school and could challenge for a starting role on the team, and like Evan, Alex is an experienced player who has taken some lessons,” Hycner said. “The same thing goes for Dan. And both Mikey and Randy have taken lessons as well, and while there are a lot of guys in front of them, they both have great potential and will end up being starters at some point if it isn’t this year.

“We have an extraordinary number of players who have taken some type of lessons and have really nice fundamental skills,” Hycner continued. “I have never had a year with so many players that have the skills that these players do. I can certainly see our lineup fluctuating quite a bit throughout the season as different players challenge and win positions. It’s a great problem to have, having the depth that we do this year.”

East Aurora, which had all of its matches ahead of spring break postponed due to weather, is slated to kick off its season this afternoon — weather permitting — at Orchard Park. The Blue Devils will close out their week at Maryvale Friday before kicking off a stretch of four matches in five days Monday at Pioneer.

“Our goal as a team is to put the best lineup out there each day and to try to win our division,” Hycner said. “Individually, each player needs to work hard every day and always be striving to improve their game. Our doubles teams will have to work on chemistry with their partners and develop effective strategies throughout the season. At the end of the year, only three players are guaranteed to be able to qualify for postseason play, and it will be the players who have worked the hardest and improved the most who will have the opportunity.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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