By Chris Chaney
Winning at least a share of the Southern Buckeye Conference title each of the past two seasons and returning a stellar group of seniors in 2013 has the New Richmond Lions and head coach Rylan Shebesta expecting big things this spring.
“My expectations and goals this year would be to win league again and I think we have a good chance to win it outright,” said Shebesta. “We have a lot of kids returning and some of the other teams that were strong (last season) lost quite a few kids. We didn’t lose very many compared to the other teams.”
New Richmond will be paced by five returning starters, all of whom Shebesta believes will help to create a solid lineup from top to bottom.
“Really, the five returners that we have (will lead us) as well as one additional kid that ended up getting a lot better,” Shebesta said.
The Lions had four athletes named to the All-Southern Buckeye Conference Teams last year and three of them are returning, led by First Team selection David Ohntrup.
Ohntrup bounced between the first and second singles slots last season and had great success during the regular season leading the Lions to a 9-1 SBC mark and 12-6 record overall. Ohntrup will once again play singles in 2013, but Shebesta is making some changes to other parts of his lineup as a result of the postseason success of some singles players that he put together in doubles competition.
“Matt (Rydzewski) played No. 1 singles for me most of last year and he’ll play some of that, but him and Zach (Manning) finished runner-up in district in doubles,” Shebesta explained. “Last year I didn’t have Matt play that much doubles, but I want to try to get him (and Manning) playing doubles more this year so that they can go further when they get to sectionals.”
Moving Rydzewski, one of the five seniors returning and a Second Team All-SBC singles player last year, from one of the singles slots in the lineup opened up his spot for Henry Heidlage.
“Henry has improved a lot so I’m thinking of putting him at No. 1 singles,” Shebesta said as he ran down his lineup. “David would play No. 2 then. Henry played No. 3 singles last year and him and David are about even, but (Henry)’s beat David a couple of times, so I’ll stick him at No. 1.”
Perhaps the biggest impact on Shebesta’s experienced roster will be made by another senior, Newton McCollum.
“The one kid who never played on varsity last year, but I think will make a huge difference for us will be Newton McCollum,” Shebesta said. “He’s taken lessons all summer and gotten a lot better.”
McCollum will fill in that final singles spot, playing on the third singles court.
The final spot in the lineup that needs filling is the second doubles team of Evan McKinley and a player to be named later. Shebesta knows he can put McKinley with whomever and they will be successful, but he’s still looking at whom he’s got on the squad that will fill the need the best.
Luckily for the Lions, the winter weather has not adversely affected their preseason prep. Shebesta, himself a former tennis instructor at the Beechmont Racquet Club, said many of his team members have passes to the indoor facility where they’ve been able to stay on top of their games.
“(Beechmont Racquet Club) actually ran a clinic specifically for our team,” Shebesta said. “It was optional and they started it in February, but it was just our team members. We had seven or eight kids go up each Thursday and play.”
While the weather could have put a damper on other school’s interest, Shebesta’s connections helped prepare the Lions for yet another SBC title run.
“If I would have had all new players, I think it would have been harder just because if they hadn’t played tennis before, I wouldn’t be sure if they wanted to invest in it, but with having returning players, they were all interested in trying to get indoors and play.”