It was a dream come true for Waverly tennis players Brandon Nibert and Penn Morrison, as both played their way through the district tennis tournament to qualify for state, battling each other for seeding rights in an all-Waverly final at Ohio University Saturday, May 18. Now they will both play in the Division II state singles tournament Friday morning, May 24, at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
While Waverly’s singles players had a very successful day at Saturday’s district tennis tournament at Ohio University, the doubles duo of Chase Downing and Ryan Dunn suffered a tough three-set loss in the qualifying round to bring an end to their run together. Waverly’s other doubles duo, Alex Workman and Logan Faul, dropped their opening match to Zac Hammond and Josh Wiehle of Minford. The following paragraphs contain a recap of all of the action.
“We were so close to sending four players to state which is pretty unheard of,” said Morrison. “But it was a great effort.”
Workman and Faul lost their first-round match to Minford’s Wiehle and Hammond, 6-1, 6-1.
“We were loose and made way too many errors. We just couldn’t get anything going,” said Waverly coach Matt Morrison. “The good news for us is that they’re both back next year and have had a taste of districts. It gives them something to shoot for.”
Downing and Dunn had a bye as the No. 2 seed. In their first match, they squared off with Daily and Dearing of East Liverpool, who had won their first round match over Abare and Riggs of Miami Trace. Dunn and Downing were able to beat East Liverpool 7-5, 6-2.
Then Downing and Dunn ran into Wagner and Gallion of West Holmes in the qualifying round, suffering a loss in a tough three-set battle, 5-7, 7-5, 2-6. It was a see-saw battle. Dunn, a senior, is done with high school tennis, but Downing, a junior, will return for another year.
“One set from state is tough to take, but Chase and Ryan have had a great run together with three Southern Ohio Conference (doubles) titles, two district appearances, and a whole lot of wins,” said Morrison. “Chase will return next year, and we’ll need him for sure to keep our success going. We’ll miss Ryan too. He’s been great playing doubles and singles when called upon. He never questions or complains about anything and does what he’s supposed to do.”
To set up the all-Waverly district title match final in singles, Penn Morrison and Brandon Nibert had to play through their respective brackets.
Nibert had the top seed and breezed through his side of the bracket. After his first-round bye, Nibert won his next two matches without dropping a game. He defeated Coshocton’s Carter Coffman in the second round and Hillsboro’s Gabe Gilliland in the qualifying round.
“Gilliland is a solid player, but they played each other in our sectional too. He (Carter) hits a big ball, but he is not consistent enough to beat Brandon. Brandon has him figured out,” said Coach Morrison. “So just like the SOC tournament and sectional, Nibert had to wait to see if he would face Penn (Morrison) or Drew Jackson from Wheelersburg in the district final.
Nibert has now been to state for three straight years, a district qualifier all four years of his career, and has 98 wins under his belt.
Penn Morrison also had a bye in the first round. Then he met Jackson’s Mason Sheets, who defeated Alex Douglass of St. Clairsville in the opening round. Morrison won over Sheets 6-2, 6-0 to set up a battle with Wheelersbug senior Drew Jackson for the fourth time in a month.
According to Coach Morrison, Wheelersburg’s Jackson has won 102 matches since his freshman year, has three SOC titles in singles (until Penn beat him), has gone to state two times in singles, and has a district championship to his credit also. Jackson won their first meeting at Wheelersburg and Penn Morrison won their last two at SOC and sectional.
“This was ‘winner to state and loser goes home’ scenario though, and it was tense. It was back and forth with both players going for their shots. Very little separated them, and it was Penn who came out in top 6-4, 7-5,” said Coach Morrison. “Just like the last two matches, Penn was a little better in the bigger moments. He served really well and was able to pull it out. To go 3-1 versus a player (Jackson) with those kind of credentials and experience is impressive, especially for a freshman.”
Those results meant that Penn Morrison and Brandon Nibert were both guaranteed to qualify for the state tournament and a Waverly player would have the opportunity to win the district title, which has never been done before for the boys’ program.
“It was one-all in finals this year since Penn won the SOC title and Nibert won the sectional. They battled hard, and in the end, it was Penn who came out on top 6-4, 7-5. This was the dream scenario we had at the beginning of the year and it was great to watch it unfold,” said Coach Morrison.
“To have Nibert, who had accomplished so much the last four years, and Penn who looks to have a bright future playing for the SOC, sectional, and district titles was surreal. It is not over yet. Hopefully we can make a dent at state this year.”
Friday morning it all begins at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason. Nibert will square off with Jay Fortner, a freshman from Bryan, while Morrison will face Luke Henrich, a senior from Mansfield St. Peter’s.
“This is our fourth state appearance (Nibert has been the past three years), and it’s tough sledding when you get down there with so many great players,” said Coach Morrison. “But we belong, and our guys are among the last remaining 16 players in Division II, so we’ll swing away and give it our best.”