Oakwood boys qualify six players to D-II district tennis tournament

Twelve weeks on crutches, followed by three months of physical therapy – it was worth every painful and frustrating moment for Oakwood High School senior Andrew Rich.

Nine months after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the Lumberjacks senior and his partner Jack Smallwood are Division II sectional doubles champions. Rich and Smallwood defeated their top-seeded Oakwood teammates Noah Boyce and Max McCloskey, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, Wednesday at Centerville High School to claim the title.

“Getting back on the court so I could have a senior season was my biggest motivator,” Rich said. “Every PT exercise I did was with this goal in mind.”

The champions knew topping the top seeds would not be an easy feat. Boyce and McCloskey played first and second singles for the 11-0 Jacks during the regular season. Rich played third singles, while Smallwood played first doubles.

“They were the team that was expected to win,” Smallwood said of his teammates. “So, we were hyped up and very motivated.”

That motivation paid off as Rich and Smallwood are now the top seeds heading into the DII Southwest District Tournament at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason next week. Boyce and McCloskey are second seeds.

“And, at the end of the day, we’re all teammates and we’re all friends,” Rich said.

Alter’s Ethan Paul and AJ Draugelis and Chaminade Julienne’s Cris Dickman and Cal Weatherspoon finished third and fourth, respectively, in doubles.

The doubles duos will have company in Mason as the Oakwood tennis team has six district qualifiers. Unseeded singles players Rohan Haack and Arick Baldwin, both sophomores, both qualified by placing second and fourth, respectively, in the DII sectional singles competition. Legacy Christian freshman Tucker Culpepper won the sectional singles title.

“I knew we had depth, but these kids really stepped up and did an amazing job,” Oakwood coach Kim Gilbert said. “Their dedication to the team is second to none. They are willing to do whatever is asked of them.”

Haack played first doubles with Smallwood during the regular season while Baldwin played second doubles. Both players edged out seeded players Monday to advance to the sectional semifinals. Haack also topped second-seeded Sam Zelinski, of CJ, in the semifinals Wednesday to earn a spot in the championship match against Culpepper. Zelinski finished third overall.

“Rohan had not dropped a set to that point,” Gilbert said of the final. “But Tucker is absolutely amazing.”

District play gets underway Thursday and Rich now has his sights set on extending his senior season.

“Last year, my partner Jake Schairbaum and I were a win away from qualifying to state,” Rich said. “This year, that’s where Jack and I want to end up.”

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