Avon Lake Shoremen ready to make title run

MORNING JOURNAL/SAM GREENE Avon Lake junior Tim Villari returns a serve during a scrimmage at Avon Lake High School.

The Shoremen have waited their turn. They have watched Westlake snatch up four consecutive Southwestern Conference crowns coming into this season. In 2013, Avon Lake intends to bring home a conference championship of its own.

That is not to say they have not had their own successes of late. The Shoremen have won the past four LCAAA tournaments, including a sweep of the event in 2012.

However, last year was the first time they had won the SWC tournament in nine years. Avon Lake secured a tie with the Demons when Tim Villari grabbed the third singles title. But because the Shoremen fell to Westlake in the regular season they missed out on winning the conference outright. The Shoremen are looking to use the snub as fuel to push past their rivals this year.

“The disappointment from that was kind of hard to take, but at the same time, I think we’ve transitioned that disappointment into a hunger for seeing 2013 on the banner,” Villari said.

Greg Miller will take over first singles duties in the stead of junior James Darkow who left the team in the offseason to concentrate on cross country and track. Darkow won first singles at the LCAAA his freshman year on his way to sectionals, in addition to placing runner-up at the LCAAA and SWC as a sophomore.

“We lose a great leader in practices and matches,” Miller said of Darkow. “But it’s brought us together as a team because we all know how much we’ve lost and how much we need to pull together to beat Westlake.”

Coach Adam Slabodnick agrees that Darkow’s are big shoes to fill, but feels that with Miller at the top of the lineup Avon Lake will not miss a step.

“It’s just like having James up there, pretty much,” he said.

Unlike Darkow and other first singles players in the area the past four seasons, Miller will not have to contend with Demons’ legend and four-time state tournament participant Colton Buffington, who has moved on to the University of Louisville after compiling a 30-0 record his senior season en route to a Division I state championship.

In an added wrinkle to the rivalry, Miller will instead clash with Westlake’s new first singles player, his close friend Connor Michelich when the clubs play one another this season. The pair are longtime friends off the court, but they share a highly-contested rivalry on it. Miller will be looking to gain back bragging rights over Michelich after dropping their second singles match at the SWC tournament 6-3, 6-4 in 2012.

“(Connor) is a great player and having him as a friend and hitting partner has pushed me to become a better player myself,” Miller said. “I think we both look forward to playing each other and during matches just enjoy the competition and seeing both of us improve.”

While Michelich got the best of him in their most recent outing, Miller’s runner-up finish is only a portion of how he’s made a name for himself in the area. He won the LCAAA second singles title last year after winning first doubles at the tournament on his way to districts the year before. The senior has been out since August with a knee injury that resulted in physical therapy and several rounds of cortisone injections. Miller is uncertain about when he will be entirely healthy, though he will play in as many matches as possible.

Moving up to second singles is Villari, who in addition to winning an SWC title, finished second at the LCAA tournament last year. According to his Avon Lake coach, Villari’s work ethic has allowed him to improve as much as anyone during his time with the program.

“Nobody has ever gotten very good at something by not practicing it,” Villari said. “Whenever I can, I try to hit. I also have a coach I work with in the offseason and he and I have been going through and tackling the different aspects of my game. Personally, I’m never 100 percent satisfied with what I’ve done.

“Having won third singles in SWC last season, it was a great feeling but I also knew there were two levels of guys above me. It gave me incentive to feel like I can compete with those guys.”

Villari and Miller are backed by a solid veteran group that both say have been working all offseason for the difficult challenges ahead. No one is arguing against Westlake as the favorite, but the Shoremen are eager to prove they belong at the top of the SWC standings.

“We try to bring a fire to matches every time,” Miller said. “This year, more than any year, I think we really have a shot at winning it.”



@NatePentecost

Last Updated: 4/2/2013 11:18:44 PM EST

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