A year removed from a shared crown in the Southern Buckeye Conference’s National Division, the Batavia Bulldogs have laid claim the title in solo fashion in 2014 following a perfect run through the conference.
Heading into their final two matches of the league season late last week, the Bulldogs were 4-0, already notching wins over Blanchester and Felicity, both of whom were within striking distance. A Thursday, May 1 win (3-2) over the Wildcats guaranteed a least a share of the title for the second consecutive year and a 3-2 win over Felicity on May 5 wrapped up the title.
Head coach Jon Nau, the reigning Coach of the Year in the National Division and certainly a top candidate for the award again this season, said that the conference title would be big for the school and the program.
Nau went on to say that the upperclassmen leadership, especially coming out of two of the three singles courts, is a big reason for the Bulldogs’ sustained success.
“We’ve been really strong in our singles,” Nau said. “The three guys are senior Austin Conner, senior Nick Herron and sophomore Mark Knauer.”
All three singles players have put up some impressive performances for the Bulldogs already this season with wins at the Tom Ball Western Brown Tennis Tournament and the Coaches’ Classic among them.
Conner, a four-year player in his third-year as a singles player, won the Tom Ball and went 1-1 in the Coaches’ Classic. Herron won his Coaches Classic bracket and is undefeated on the season. Ironically, Nau said, as the top two players on the squad, neither are power players.
“Both (Conner) and (Nick) Herron are junkballers in a sense,” Nau explained. “They return most everything and when your first two singles players can win most of their matches, it becomes a snowball effect (for the rest of the team).”
Nau said Knauer is probably the most improved player on the team this season. The sophomore made it to the finals of both the Tom Ball and the Coaches’ Classic, but was unable to win either.
The doubles teams for Batavia aren’t as accomplished as their singles counterparts. but they’re working their way up into similar form as the season works toward a close.
“Doubles has gotten progressively better,” Nau explained. “We’ve jumbled up the lineup a bit. We’ve settled on sophomores Joe Sickles and Andrew Truske at first singles. They continue to improve. Our second doubles is Luke Herron, who is a freshman and Nick’s little brother, and senior Nick Hornberger, who has played for us a little in the past.”
As a team, the Bulldogs buttressed their solid in-conference season with a runner-up finish at the Coaches’ Classic. (Despite tying in points with Madeira, Batavia was awarded the second-place slot as a result of Nick Herron’s win in second singles.)
With a regular-season SBC championship and a runner-up at one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year in the area, the Bulldogs are in good form heading into the sectional tournament on May 15. However, a difficult draw that includes both the state champion and runner-up — Asher Hirsch and Patrick Wildman, both of Cincinnati Country Day — a newcomer to CCD that’s heralded and a strong Indian Hill contingent, making it out of the sectional will be a tall task.
“This year, the sectional got divided and it used to be that all of the really good teams were in one sectional,” Nau explained, “but that’s not the case anymore. Other than Cincinnati Country Day and Indian Hill, I expect us to hold our own.
“We’re looking forward to it. We’re playing at the ATP, the professional tennis center, so it’s really a lot of fun for the kids to get to play there.”
The sectional tournament kicks off on Thursday, May 15. Full brackets are available on the Southwest Ohio District Athletic Board website at swdab.org.