By Chris Chaney
Not on many people’s radar prior to the season, Claire Smalley’s Milford tennis team has turned some heads and garnered a lot of respect from their area opponents as they have come out of the gate exceptionally well to sit atop the Eastern Cincinnati Conference unblemished through seven matches this season.
“We are doing very well, undefeated right now,” Smalley said. “It’s better than I could have hoped. They’re playing awesome and working very hard. We hope to continue our good play into the second half of the season.”
Not dropping a match thus far has been a complete team effort, Smalley said. The Eagles have not only won every match, they’re winning every match in dominant fashion. The team has only dropped five games all season and has swept three of their seven matches.
Led by first singles player Austin Hensley, the Eagles have a front man who nearly guarantees them a win every time he takes the court.
“My first singles, Austin Hensley, has only lost one match, which having that record is very difficult at first singles because the competition is so tough.
“Third singles, (Casey Harris) has also only lost one match and both of the my doubles teams are undefeated, so like I said, things are going really well and I couldn’t hope for anything better right now.”
The doubles teams have been alternated throughout the season extremely effectively. Although there have been four different combinations of players playing in the two doubles slots, the most consistent have been David Hacker and Andrew Huxell in first doubles and Andrew Giltmier and Brennan Perkins in second doubles. Both pairs are 5-0 on the season.
If that wasn’t reason enough to believe in this team, the pairs of Harris and Perkins and Tyler Brown and David Shelton have also proved to be unbeatable, both taking the match they played together in.
The turnaround in the program has been profound. Coming off of a 2-6 mark last year, Smalley’s initial goal for her 2013 team was to simply improve on last year’s performance. However, that mark was attained by the third match of the year and the goals of the team had to be reevaluated.
“My No. 1 goal was to do better than we did last year and we’ve already surpassed that by far,” Smalley said. “The league is so tough and such a good league to be a part of. We have some very tough matches coming up. We’ve beat a few tough teams, but we’ve got even tougher teams coming up, so that’s going to be the real test and see if we can step up our game and play when we’re really tested. And I’m hoping we can step up and win the league.”
The team atmosphere around the Milford squad makes the impending sectional tournament a cherry on top of a great season. Competing individually, Smalley said, will be the culmination of the year, not the focus.
“We’re focused on the regular season because that is where we are going to have the most success,” she said. “When we get into the postseason, that’s when we will see how we can do individually. If we continue to play well as a team, only good things will happen in the postseason.”