This is the time of year Mimi O’Connell finally gets nervous. Watching her son play tennis, she obviously wants him to do well. But the state tournament rolls around, and …
“I get a little nervous,” she said. “My husband probably gets a little more tense.”
Mike O’Connell has a high school tennis career any young player would envy. In four years on the varsity tennis team, the St. Francis de Sales senior won a team state championship his freshman year and a doubles state championship, playing along side his cousin James, as a sophomore. The success has translated into a college education, as he accepted a full ride to The Ohio State University, choosing the Buckeyes from many suitors.
Still, the mantle is missing one piece of hardware, the final piece, the coup de gras: boys singles state champion, the heavyweight title belt of Ohio’s boys high school tennis.
“It’s the first time I’ve really made a run at it (state championship) as a singles player,” O’Connell said. “It’s kind of like a wrap up; A great way to end a high school career.”
O’Connell picked up tennis as a youth in California, where he lived from first through sixth grade. The laid-back California approach has stuck with him.
But on the court, O’Connell is tenacious, attacking the net and forcing the action like a lion ripping apart fresh prey. He plays a power game, both forehand and back, yet likes to charge the net and dare his opponent to beat him. He’ll keep challenging until he finds someone who’s a better man, as he’s undefeated this year. He plowed through any and all challengers as he, in singles, and his team took this year’s city championships. Add to his resume the City League, sectional and district titles.
O’Connell has played tennis most of his life, competing in tournaments during the summer that have taken him to more than 20 states, competing against players from all 50 states. He’s sacrificed free time for practice time, given to his sport.
“It’s right here,” O’Connell said. “It’s everything you’ve practiced for and it’s finally come down to this.”
Friday, at the Stickney Tennis Center on the Ohio State campus, on the same courts he’ll play his collegiate tennis, O’Connell will face David Peyton from Kettering Fairmont. Will he be nervous?
“I’ll be excited nervous,” he said. “But confident.”
This weekend, O’Connell will play for the state title. His mom will be nervous, even as her son’s confidence grows.