JM’s Hayden Blazer Cruises to OVAC Title

WHEELING – Heavy was the head that was going after the crown.

John Marshall’s Hayden Blazer knew he was the favorite to win the OVAC Boys No. 1-seed singles championship that barely eluded his grasp last year.

He was the No. 1 seed at No. 1 after all.

The senior knew it was his last chance, and he admitted the nerves were active.

Despite being undefeated, and having victories against his likely competition, he knew anything could happen.

“There is a lot of pressure,” Blazer said. “Everyone expects you to do well. When you are a sophomore, or a junior, you go through the progressions. You get beat. You always have next year. Last year, I was able to get to the finals (falling to Cambridge senior Cody Engstrom). I wanted to take it one step further this time. It was my last one.”

Turns out, Blazer need not have worried. He had little trouble in crusing to the OVAC title.

Blazer breezed by his first two matches, beating Indian Creek’s Justin Caniff 8-0 and Steubenville’s Mike Rosaschi 8-0.

He then defeated Wheeling Central’s Jonathan Haley 8-2 to get back to the championship match, where he faced Killian Stappen of Morgantown.

It was a little closer, but Blazer got the title he was after, and kept his record a perfect 22-0, defeating Stappen 8-6.

Morgantown edged Parkersburg South for the Class 5A championship, 22-18. John Marshall was third with 11.

Wheeling Central’s boys won the Class 1A-4A title, winning a tiebreaker with Linsly. Both had eight points. East Liverpool, Madonna and Steubenville had five points each.

Blazer’s teammate Austin Litman also advanced to the championship in the No. 3 singles, falling to Morgantown’s Adam McKnight 8-1.

Steven Wu of Morgantown won the No. 2 singles title, beating Garrett Dailey of Parkersburg South 8-0 and Michael Derrico of Morgantown defeated Wheeling Park’s Ollie Marra 8-1.

Unlike many of his competitors at the No. 1 seed, Blazer didn’t not start playing tennis until sixth grade, when he took up the game with his sister.

He was tutored under area tennis professional Jeremy McClelland when he started.

McClelland later left the area, but returned recently.

“I hadn’t seen him in a few years, and one day I ran into him,” McClelland said. “I looked at him, and I said, ‘Wait a minute, didn’t I used to to coach you?’ He had grown a lot.”

Including his game.

“His game has improved so much,” said McClelland, who is again tutoring Blazer. “He is definitely a talented player. Tennis is a hard game. Anybody can pick up a tennis racket and hit a ball over the net. But not everyone can be good at it. He is good at it because of his mental game. He understands the game.”

His coach at John Marshall, Brad Howard, had also seen the growth. Blazer played alongside Howard’s daughter Allie, early in his career as a Monarch.

“He was our No. 2 player as a freshmen and you could tell he was going to be a good one,” Howard said. “The last two years, he played more of a defensive game. When you play a defensive game, you more or less wait for who is going to make a mistake. This year, we’ve got him playing more of the offensive game. He is really working his opponents and he’s really good at placing his shots.”

Blazer had picked up a championship earlier in the week when he teamed with sophomore Tyler Keller to beat No. 2 Parkersburg South’s team of Grant Tebay and Garrett Daily 8-6. That was after dispatching No. 1 seeded Morgantown in the semifinals.

“It was a pretty big deal, because we had lost to them in the regular season,” Blazer said. “We had everything come together. It was nice to win a doubles championship in my last OVAC tournament.”

“They did surprise me,” Howard said. “They have been hot and cold at times this season. On Monday they started out hot and they stayed hot. It’s not an easy thing to do to beat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds back to back.

As the OVAC boys No. 1 singles participants found out, it is darn near impossible. Blazer now moves on to the regional tournament.

The OVAC Tennis Tournament wraps up today with the girls singles competition, which will be held at West Liberty University barring more inclement weather. If rain is forecast it will be held at the Wheeling Park tennis bubble for the fourth day.