BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — When Maumee’s top three boys tennis players were freshmen, opponents brought out their junior varsity teams against the overmatched Panthers.
To paraphrase the Michael Jordan meme, they took offense to that.
Now just a few short years later, Maumee is a program on the rise after showing significant growth last season. Gone are the days when teams could take a day off against the Panthers.
“When I first got here, my big motto was, ‘We’re not going to a gunfight with knives, we’re going to compete,’” said MHS coach Teddy Morse. “The days of playing your JV team when you play Maumee are over. We’re competing. Kids expect good things.
“We’re going to be a factor this year in the league and in the area.”
Maumee has the proof behind such claims, too. They beat Anthony Wayne for the first time in more than 20 years last year, Gavin Yu took a second-singles win over Perrysburg, and Yu teamed up with Braden Tucker to advance to the district tournament and a match away from the state bracket.
The Panthers have gone from the hunter to the hunted, according to Morse.
“Everybody knows we’re good,” Morse said. “We’ve got a little bit of a bullseye on our back. We’re going to be good.”
Maumee’s strength this season rests with its singles players, all seniors back for their fourth season. Tucker returns at No. 1 singles, Yu is at No. 2 and William Zheng is back at No. 3.
Those also just so happen to be the players who remember when the Panthers were the ‘have nots’ other teams did not take seriously.
“It feels great, because I know during our freshman year, that didn’t happen,” Tucker said of facing the other team’s best lineup. “They brought in their JV team and just wiped the floor with us.”
Zheng added, “I kind of got offended by that.”
The big wins over the Generals and Yellow Jackets didn’t go unnoticed. When Tucker claimed the deciding point against AW, he said he couldn’t even hear himself cheer because his teammates were yelling so loudly. And when Yu won his match against Perrysburg, his teammates rushed the court.
“That one will start to build and we’ll learn a lot from that,” Zheng said. “If we can work together as a team and find other teams’ weaknesses and work hard at it, we can probably win NLLs.”
The Panthers didn’t spend the offseason resting on their laurels. They benefited from plenty of training, including time indoors at Twos Athletic Club. According to Zheng, his teammates were just a phone call away to help work on forehand, volleys, anything they needed.
“Tennis is one of those sports that you have to play a lot to get better,” Yu said. “It’s not like you grab a racket and get better. You have to train every step to get better.”
Maumee will waste little time in proving its chops, facing some of the best competition in Northwest Ohio over the first five matches, including matchups with St. John’s and Clay and an OTCA match against Lexington.
“I’m old school, you play good people to get better,” Morse said. “We’re going to be battle-tested off the bat, but we’re ready. We’ve been waiting for this for a while.”