Mark Schmetzer reports:
Alex Taylor didn’t derive any extra incentive from going unseeded into the Division I Mason boys’ sectional tournament.
He just played like it.
The Sycamore freshman upset fourth-seeded Nick Lang in the second round on the way to reaching the semifinals and earning an automatic berth in next Thursday’s and Saturday’s district tournament at Centerville High School.
“I knew I could get to this point,” Taylor said Saturday morning, after losing to top-seeded Luke Tsai, 6-3, 7-5, in a semifinal at Riverside Athletic Club in Hamilton. “I knew I had the ability to beat Lang.”
The top four singles players and doubles teams in each of four sectional tournaments qualified for district tournament. Saturday’s matches determined the seeding for the district draw.
The second Mason semifinal matched Comet seniors Jeremy Schneider and Miguel Cepeda, and the second-seeded Cepeda prevailed over the third-seeded Schneider, 6-4, 7-6, setting up a finals matchup between the players who formed last season’s Division I state doubles championship team won by Tsai, 6-0, 6-2.
The sectional champion admitted it was difficult to play a teammate, but he needed a strong match to sharpen his game for the district tournament.
“This match was really good for my confidence,” Tsai said. “In the first match today, I felt like I was out of focus and struggled. I needed to come back and perform well.”
Schneider bounced back to beat Taylor in the third-place match, 7-6 (3), 6-4.
At the Cincinnati Division I sectional, St. Xavier freshman Andrew Niehaus won the singles championship with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Walnut Hills senior Nils Knobloch.
“It feels great,” said Niehaus, the No. 1 seed and brother of former girls Division I state champion Sandy Niehaus of Mount Notre Dame. “(Knobloch) was good, too.”
The key to a freshman knocking off a fourth-seeded senior?
“Just keeping the ball in play and stuff,” Andrew Niehaus said. “My serve was pretty good today, too.”
He credited his good-natured sibling rivalry with his sister as part of the reason for his success.
“I get confidence from her,” he said, adding that she still beats him on the courts. “It gets closer and closer every day.”
Rain forced both the Mason and Cincinnati Divisions I and II sectional semifinals and finals indoors on Saturday.
The Cincinnati sectionals were moved from the Lindner Family Tennis Center to Camargo Racquet Club. The Mason Division sectional was moved to Riverside, while the Division II sectional was completed at Queen City Racquet Club.
Like Taylor, Sycamore coach Mike Teets wasn’t surprised to see the freshman right-hander knock off the Firebird senior and go on to reach the semifinals.
“We sure hoped for it,” said Teets, who played Taylor in doubles for most of the regular season. ”I can’t say I’m surprised.
“He’s an all-court player. He’s definitely one of those. He’s comfortable at the net and on the baseline. Now it’s mostly a matter of him getting bigger and stronger.”
Taylor also didn’t seem intimidated by playing in his first high school tournament, even fighting back in his second set against Tsai to force an extra game in the second set. Previous non-school tournament experience helped prepare him, he said.
“He’s pretty mature,” Teets added. “He’s a thoughtful young man.”