By Chris Chaney
Coming off of a season that saw the New Richmond Lions go a perfect 10-0 in the Southern Buckeye Conference, head coach Rylan Shebesta had some work to do when the 2014 season rolled around, graduating five All-League performers.
Given the turnover, Shebesta’s first challenge this season was setting his lineup and finding out who fit where.
“Our lineup has shifted around a little bit,” the coach explained. “Currently — and it still may change — Alex Grooms is playing (No.) 1 singles. Cody Kirschner is playing (No.) 3, but he may jump to No. 1 because he’s been playing the best. Joe Maxwell plays (second) singles.
“The doubles I’m pretty set on the rest of the year. One doubles is Angus Matthews and Carter Light and our other doubles team — I actually have two of them. Two kids play soccer and when they’re not there, I use another two and both teams are about the same. The team I try to use is AJ Hobbs and Grant Anderson, but our other team who is just about as good as them is Jake Ryan and Chase Heflin.”
Shebesta said that after an 0-5 start, things began to click when he moved Maxwell from first doubles to second singles, switching Matthews from that singles slot and into a doubles team with Light. The 0-5 start was not indicative of how well the team was playing and the coach said had he made that switch earlier in the season, perhaps a few of those 3-2 losses could have gone the other way.
“That (switch) was huge because they both excelled in the other spot,” Shebesta said. “I think we could have won our first two or even three matches had I made that switch earlier, but that’s part of coaching new kids.”
Once the kinks were worked out and the switches were made, the Lions have begun getting the results that their stellar play had promised early on, wheeling off five straight wins to even their record and get back in the hunt for fourth consecutive piece of the SBC title.
“Our league is very competitive all the way up and down,” Shebesta said. “Besides Amelia, everybody can beat each other and the only reason I say Amelia doesn’t is because they only have three singles players. Western Brown hasn’t lost yet in our league, but in my opinion, I think Bethel is the best team. They won the Western Brown Tournament and I’ve been impressed with them. I know they’ve lost a couple, but watching and eyeball-wise, they look like the best team. But on paper, Western Brown is (the best). They’re good, I give them credit.
“As far as where we stack up, I’d like to think we could win league, but it’s hard to tell right now. I’m not sure where we will fall at the end.”
Back at .500 in matches, New Richmond put their talents on display in the annual Coaches’ Classic held over the weekend around the city. Playing in Flight E, New Richmond saw some familiar faces in Goshen and Batavia, but also other strong teams such as Princeton and Madeira.
The double-elimination tournament held at Cincinnati Country Day and Indian Hill saw three Lions finish in third place: Kirschner, who moved up to second singles, Maxwell, playing third singles and the second doubles team of Ryan and Heflin.
Overall, New Richmond finished in fifth place, behind flight champions Princeton, runners-up Batavia and Madeira and Taylor, who finished five points ahead of the Lions. Goshen finished sixth and Glen Este came in seventh.
The Lions now are facing the home stretch of the season with sectionals as the end point on May 15.
“I think every match we have left is winnable and I told (the team) that,” Shebesta said. “All of our league matches are winnable. We’ve played everybody except for Amelia (scheduled for April 29) and Goshen (NR won 3-2) and we’re still in it. I think Western Brown will lose a match to somebody else and if we can win out, we would tie them. That’s what I’ve been preaching. We could lose any day, but so can anyone else. We need some luck that Western Brown loses, but if they do, we play them again (on May 2) and if we win out, that would tie us.”
Aside from matches against Amelia and Western Brown, the Lions have a date with Bethel-Tate on May 1 and Goshen on May 5 that will determine how the SBC shakes out.