By DAVE HANNEMAN
When Findlay High School’s girls tennis team needed a new coach for the fall season, FHS Athletics Director Nate Weihrauch knew just where to go.
He already had a qualified person on staff.
“Well, it was a little unexpected,” said Ray Elbin, a former Findlay High tennis coach and more recently an assistant athletics director at Findlay High.
Maria Little ran the FHS program last season. But when she was named department chair in the guidance office, her duties increased drastically.
“Being department chair, learning a new job, she just felt it was too much to take on,” Elbin said. “So Nate asked if I would do it and having coached 10 years previously I said. ‘Yeah.’
“It sounds like a really good challenge and here I am.”
Elbin brings an excellent resume to the position. He coached both boys and girls tennis in the first decade of the millennium, guiding the girls program to five Greater Buckeye Conference titles between 2001 and 2009, and the boys teams to 12 Great Lakes League and Greater Buckeye Conference championships between 1997 and 2011.
“We had a good streak going, but it’s a different league now,” said Elbin, referring to Findlay’s move to the Three Rivers Athletic Conference in 2011.
“Whoever wins our league now is a state-championship caliber team, one of the best teams in the state. Where our program is now, we’re not at that level.”
Findlay finished sixth in the TRAC standings last season, and graduated some of its top players in No. 1 singles player Savannah Hosey, No. 3 singles player Sarah Abraham, Ellie Kutschbach, who saw some playing time at No. 3 singles, and part-time No. 2 doubles player Courtney Clemons.
Hosey and Abraham both finished sixth in the TRAC tournament.
Of the 28 varsity and JV players on last year’s rosters, though, 16 were sophomores. That means Elbin has a huge junior contingent of players returning, including Suzi Zuver from last year’s No. 2 doubles team that had Findlay’s highest finish in the 2016 TRAC tournament, a fifth-place showing. Zuver and Emma England also reached the semifinals of the Division I district tournament.
Juniors Katelyn Coleman and Brooklyn Peck, who placed sixth in the TRAC tournament at No. 2 doubles, are back, along with No. 2 singles player Julia Weigman, the lone senior on the 2017 roster. Lauren Spaeth, another junior who saw some action at No.2 doubles, is also back.
Weigman, already a two-year letterwinner, was 3-16 last season. Zuver posted a 5-15 record while Peck and Coleman were 6-12.
Elbin sees Weigman and Zuver battling for the Nos. 1 singles position, with Spaeth, Becca Mathews and Evelyn Kutschbach — all juniors — competing for the No. 3 spot.
Peck and Coleman will likely hold down one of the doubles teams positions. Juniors Miyu Uchiyama, Antonia Beltz, Jocelyn Feasel and Maggie McGhee and sophomores Izzy Zalat, Ashley Coleman and Kelsey Coleman will be battling for starting spots as well, with the key being head-to-head competition.
“We didn’t have a good league finish last year and we did lose some people,” Elbin said. “But we do have a good core of underclassmen who did get some experience.
“We’re probably not the same tier as some of the top teams (in the TRAC). Nobody really is. But I think we’re going to be competitive. That’s going to be the key this season. We hope to be competitive and make improvement on last year’s record.
“The great thing is we have a core of players who are about the same level and versatility. It’s going to be a real headache for Sean (assistant coach Swisher) and I, but it’s good for the team.
“We have a lot of players who deserve some varsity time. One good thing about tennis is they play each other, and that competition is going to be good experience.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we can use that as motivation for next year and see who wants to work in the off season to improve and get themselves a starting spot. It’s really going to be competitive, but when everybody else stops it’s the people who keep going that are the ones that will make the biggest gains.”
Considering what 2016 TRAC champion Toledo Central Catholic has returning, Findlay may not be the only team in the league looking ahead to next year. The Irish swept all three singles titles and won the No. 1 doubles crown as well a year ago, and all five of those players are expected back this season, including three state qualifiers.
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