Oak Glen quartet ready to head south

NEW CUMBERLAND – As four members of the Oak Glen tennis team travel to Charleston for the state tennis tournament, Madison Hill can’t help but imagine what could have been.

What couldn’t have been, rather.

“I didn’t think I’d even play beyond my freshman year,” said Hill, a senior. “But I ended up liking it a lot. I worked to be as good as I can be at it.”

She’s making her second appearance at the state tournament, which starts Thursday at 9 a.m. Last year, Hill was part of the No. 3 doubles team which finished second in the state.

This year, she took up singles for the first time and is heading to Charleston for the second time.

“It was my main goal,” Hill said. “I never played singles before so I really wanted to prove to myself that I could be successful at it.

“You have to do everything by yourself. You’re not depending on a partner, so it’s all on you.”

Hill first picked up a racket when she was 14 because a lot of her friends were playing tennis and she also had a cousin who played.

Tennis is a tradition that runs in the Sayre family, too.

“My whole family plays tennis and I just picked it up later than everybody else,” said Addison Sayre, an Oak Glen junior and the only member of the boys team to qualify for the state tournament.

Like Hill, he was 14 when he started playing.

“I kind of got peer-pressured into playing my freshman year,” Sayre said.

In the fall, he plays soccer and he still admits that it’s his favorite sport. But tennis sure is growing on him.

“I was the only freshman on varsity back then,” he said. “Everybody else was a senior. I was lucky to start fast right away and it’s picked me up into the position I’m in now.”

He has gone down as a state tournament spectator for the past two seasons, but isn’t really intimidated by playing in it for the first time.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Sayre said. “I’m just going to go down and play. I’ll be fine with whatever happens this year but I’m going to try my best. Then, I’ll worry about making it even farther next year.

“To prepare, we’ve just been working on our strokes and making sure everyone is healthy.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

No. 1 singles player and two-time state qualifier Hayley Spurlock is nursing a broken pinky finger.

“I landed on it and broke it in OVACs,” she said. “I played through it because I didn’t know it was broken. The next day I got an X-Ray and the doctor said I probably shouldn’t play, but I didn’t care. It hurt but I feel OK playing.”

Last year’s No. 4 singles state champion Madison Juszczak has been under the weather for the past two days. Suffering from flu-like symptoms, she’s been hospitalized and has been aided by IVs to help her get back on her feet as quickly as possible.

“She said she’ll be fine (by Wednesday),” Spurlock said.

Spurlock, a junior, learned to play tennis from her grandfather, Everett – an assistant coach for the Golden Bears.

“He used to play when he was younger and he taught me how to play,” she said. “When I was little I used to hit back and forth in my driveway. Every Sunday, we’d go up to Boardman and play in an indoor league.”

Concerned about her finger injury, Everett advised her not to play in the regional championship – which was won by Oak Glen.

“She about bit my head off,” Everett said. “She’s determined; she was definitely going to play.”

Spurlock, who is also on the golf team, fell in the first round of the 2013 state tournament to the eventual state champion from Parkersburg.

“Seeing the talent from across the state is impressive,” she said. “It can be intimidating.”

Juszczak was just a freshman last year when she cruised to her championship. This year she only dropped two regular season matches – to the OVAC champion Amika Ekanem from Linsly and a top-rated girl from Morgantown.

“It was always in the back of my mind and as the matches started to go by I started thinking, ‘This is getting so real,'” Juszczak said of last year’s state tournament. “I made it a goal to do it. I just kept telling myself as it got closer, ‘You’re almost there, you’re almost there.’ It was so exciting.”

She is also part of the state title-winning Oak Glen volleyball team.

“I don’t really have a favorite,” she said. “But I think if I had to choose one to play in college, it would be tennis.”

In 2013, the Golden Bears took six players – all girls – to the state tournament. The numbers are down this year, but head coach Ken Keller isn’t disappointed. He’s encouraged.

“They aren’t strangers to the state tournament,” said Keller, who is in his ninth year coaching at Oak Glen. “They’ve earned this chance and they’ve all come a long way.”

Now, the goal is to go a long way this weekend.

These four Golden Bears are focused on what could be and what’s to come.

“I want to win,” Spurlock said. “I never had a state title so getting it anyway possible would be great.”