SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
Outlooks, expectations and goals can change in the blink of an eye in sports.
Lakeside’s Joey Varckette learned just that before competing in his first high school tennis match. Varckette, a freshman, entered his debut season prepared for his first taste of varsity action, but he did not expect to be thrown straight into the fire.
A knee injury to first-singles competitor Ryan McClure changed everything. McClure required surgery, according to coach Bob Walters, and was ruled out for the season, opening the door for another Dragon to claim the top spot.
The team held a tournament and Varckette emerged as the new first-singles player.
“It’s hard to kind of be happy about that because I know (McClure) had to suffer for me to get into this position,” Varckette said after a match against Geneva on Wednesday. “So far it’s very much a learning experience, because I’m getting thrown into the alpha every time, but I’m taking everything I can from it.”
Varckette has already shown glimpses of his growth and potential.
After taking a couple losses to start the year, he displayed his ability to make adjustments mid-match against Howland’s Michael Awadalla on April 1. Awadalla claimed the first set 6-1, but Varckette fought hard in the second set before ultimately falling 7-5.
The freshman earned a 6-1, 6-3 win over Fitch’s John McMullen on April 5. He lost on Wednesday to Geneva’s Isaac Palinkas, who had yet to drop a single set before the match, and bounced back to earn his second victory on Thursday in Lakeside’s meeting with Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
Walters said Varckette has handled the first-singles position “wonderfully.”
“He and I talked (Tuesday) night after the Boardman match and we talked about the importance of being a little bit more aggressive, hitting it with a little bit more pace,” Walters said. “And you saw him out here (Wednesday). Palinkas is a terrific player, but he was in a lot of long rallies with Palinkas, so he’s going in the right direction.”
Varckette said he has already learned a number of lessons playing against the best competition each opponent has to offer.
“I learned to stay on my feet a lot, balls come at you tons faster, it’s just crazy,” he said. “Other than that, just the whole culture of how a No. 1 should be. … I kind of feel like I have to do well, even though I haven’t been compared to everyone else.
“I’m just ahead of the team’s hierarchy so I feel like I should be doing well, but I feel like I am doing well for my position as a freshman.”
With three more years of eligibility left after the current season ends, there is plenty of room for Varckette to grow.
Walters called Varckette’s potential “unlimited, because it’s not just that he plays for us, but he plays all summer long, he plays in tournaments and everything.”
As for the freshman, he just wants to continue to learn as much as he can.
“I do know I have a lot of years left,” he said. “Definitely going to work hard over the summer and the coming years. Just whatever I can take from this experience, playing with the best players in the county, that’s all I can take from it. It’s a great experience.”
The loss of McClure not only inserted Varckette into the No. 1 slot, but it affected the rest of the team as well.
“In terms of somebody of (McClure’s) caliber of play, we were looking forward to probably having that point in most of the matches we play and that would certainly help the rest of our kids to start playing a little bit higher level,” Walters said. “Even in practice sessions, he’s just a tremendous leader and helps us out a lot that way.”
Walters added that all of the other Dragons have stepped up in McClure’s absence.
“Our doubles (Richard Li, Zachary Toth, Brandon Beal and Chris Steele) are moving forward. It’s a plan and action, so they’ve improved some for sure,” he said. “We have Michael (Paulchel), our third singles, who is a freshman. He also is improving a lot. And then we also have Arrion (Riddle), who is a sophomore and he’s a backboard-type person. He hits a lot of balls back and he stays in points.
“It’s very exciting for me to see what we have, how hard they work and how much they love the game.”