Norwalk tennis maintaining its lofty winning standards

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Apr 19, 2019 at 9:16 PM

NORWALK — By all accounts, a 14-win season with a competitive 11-3 league record is a very good year.

But for one of the most decorated athletic program in area sports history, something didn't quite ring true.

"We knew everyone needed to work hard to win, and we just didn’t get it done last year," said Norwalk tennis senior and No. 1 singles player Austin Brown. "I feel like that’s all of the more reason to get it done this year."

Norwalk (12-1, 7-0) is four wins away from at least a share of a 27th league championship over the past 35 years.

The 28 titles the Truckers have won overall were the most Northern Ohio League championships by any athletic program among 12 schools over the 73 years of the league from 1944-2017.

Norwalk and six other NOL schools joined the Sandusky Bay Conference last season. In their first year in the SBC Lake Division, the Truckers lost three matches. All three setbacks were by narrow 3-2 scores — twice to eventual champion Clyde, and one vs. former NOL foe Shelby.

Earlier this month, Norwalk topped the Fliers at home on April 4, also by a 3-2 score. The Truckers visit Clyde (13-1, 6-1) on Monday with a chance to go up two matches with four league matches left.

"No matter the team, no matter the year, and no matter the talent level, our top team goal is to compete for a league championship," Norwalk head coach Chris Higgins said. "That is the message that the first singles player down to the last junior varsity player hears every year.

"Those three losses last season came in three highly competitive matches that were full of third sets," he added. "Hopefully we can continue to navigate the SBC Lake Division as we begin the second half of the league schedule."

Equally important, however, is the sustainability side of winning — beyond the league titles.

“For ourselves and Coach Higgins, we want to be our best,” No. 1 doubles player and senior Andrew Riley said. “So that everyone sees the name ‘Norwalk’ and knows it’s going to be a tough match against a top team. But working for that is really hard. When we lose a match, we work even harder and do our best to keep going. We push through it and dig deeper.”

Norwalk is led by Brown at first singles for a second straight year. The senior is 13-4 this season, and his 87 career wins rank eighth all-time in program history. He’s followed Trevor Bowers (123-10) and Andrew Herner (75-48) at the No. 1 position.

The Truckers as a team are 156-32 (.829 winning percentage) during the 10 seasons of Bowers, Herner and Brown at first singles entering Monday’s match at Clyde.

“It’s special to be able to play first singles at Norwalk,” Brown said. “I picked up a racquet my freshman year and have worked hard to get here. Just to have that company with Trevor and Andrew, and even someone like Brad Emmons (111-12, 1988-91) is just really special to me.”

Higgins noted that Bowers and Herner were four-year players at first singles, and Brown got to play alongside Herner for two seasons.

“Those are huge shoes to fill, but he was able to watch Andrew play the best competition night in and night out,” Higgins said. “Now that Austin is doing the same, he has really embraced the position. Being a natural competitor, it’s easy to motivate Austin.

“All you have to do is announce his name in the starting lineup and put an opponent against him on the other side of the net,” he added. “He is always ready to go.”

At second singles, Carson Colahan is 13-4, while Andrew Mozina is 10-7 at No. 3 singles. The first doubles team has primarily been Riley (14-3) and Wyatt Brown (13-4), with the No. 2 tandem primarily being Ben Traczek (16-1) and Sam Vanderpool (14-1). Brown, Riley, Traczek and Vanderpool are the four seniors. 

“They have been the backbone of our success at the midpoint of the season,” Higgins said of his seniors. “We have a good mix of veterans and new players at the varsity level, but the most pleasing point of the season to this point is the play of those four. Carson, Andrew (Mozina) and Wyatt have benefited greatly from the leadership shown by those seniors, especially Austin.”

While there is an unspoken pressure on maintaining a dynasty-caliber program, Traczek noted the team also has a lot of fun — which sometimes can get lost in racking up win after win.

“Losing the 3-2 matches last year made us want to come back even harder this season,” Traczek said. “We go out and just pretty much want to beat whoever is across from us, but we also want to have fun out there. We make friends with the other teams, so then it’s like we’re playing against friends. It’s not like we hold grudges. There are certain rivalries, but it’s more for fun than anything.”

On top of Monday’s huge rematch against the Fliers, Norwalk will travel to Perkins on Tuesday, then visit Clyde again on Thursday for the individual SBC Lake Division tournament to determine all-league honors. The Truckers cap the busy week with a home match vs. Vermilion on Friday.

The first Clyde match featured hundreds of points, and ultimately came down to a third-set tiebreaker at first doubles with Riley and Wyatt Brown prevailing.

“Clyde is a very big match, and we know we barely squeezed by them at home and have to work even harder this time,” Riley said. “We know what we’re up against and they’re coming for us on their home court. All the other teams are the same mentality, but there is no denying the Clyde match is a big one.”

While stating the importance of the Clyde match, Brown thinks the Truckers have more in the tank in general.

“We have to really make every match we play count so that we can get better,” he said. “We’re winning, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. I’m not trying to call anyone out, but we’ve had a few of us not play their best, including myself. We need to keep practicing hard when we get the chance.

“Every single match counts, but especially the league ones obviously,” Brown added. “We have to take care of business. Clyde has changed its lineup around a little bit, but we just need to stay focused on winning our slots.”


Norwalk tennis notable facts

— 28 Northern Ohio League titles

— 18 undefeated NOL seasons

— 101-match NOL winning streak (1996-2003)

— 12 seasons with state qualifiers

— Div. II OTCA state team semifinalist (1999)

— Only five losing seasons over past 40 years

— 414-53* in league matches over past 40 years

* — Record is with five SBC matches left this season

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