BOWLING GREEN — Jay Fortner had to remain calm. At least, at first he did.
After shaking hands with his opponent from Lexington at a Division II district tennis tournament in Bowling Green on Thursday, he returned to his bench where coach Mitchell Owens met him with a monster bear hug.
The reason for the hug was that for the first time since 1989, a Bryan singles player had advanced to the OHSAA Boys Tennis State Tournament.
“I gave him a big hug, man!” Owens exclaimed. “That’s all I needed to do. He’s worked so hard throughout his life, he’s been playing for a long time and to come on the scene in his first year as a varsity player, that’s unusual. Not unheard of, but unusual.”
Fortner first beat Miranda Wills of Ada 6-3, 6-0 in a match that Fortner was slow to get started in.
Once he got rolling, though, there was no stopping him.
“It’s a great feeling,” Fortner said. “I’ve been working pretty much all my life for this moment. This whole season, I’ve worked hard and it’s nice to have that work pay off.”
Fortner became the first player from Bryan, boy or girl, to advance to the state tournament as a freshman. He’s also the second boy in history to advance to the state tournament as a singles player.
Against Luke Henrich in the second match, Fortner had to settle down his nerves as best he could.
He did, as he won 6-2, 6-3 and earned a bid to states and Saturday’s district semifinal.
“The pressure was definitely on, but I’ve had to deal with that,” Fortner said. “That gives me an advantage because I’ve played a lot of tennis before, I’ve been in those situations. That pressure is what I love, just embrace it.”
In doubles, Brendan Reiser and Keegan McCashen dropped a three-set affair 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 to Drew Kuhlman and Parker Shomaeker of Ottawa-Glandorf to end their seasons.
“First time they’ve been to districts, if this was their second time, it might’ve ended differently,” Owens said. “Once you saw them settle in, they won that second set and they had a lot of confidence. Just couldn’t finish... They’ll be better for it. They did a great job bouncing back.”
Across the courts, Caleb Zuver and Case Hartman had a heartbreaking 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3 loss to Carter Welch and Colin Welch of Ottawa-Glandorf.
Despite taking an early lead, Zuver and Hartman weren’t able to slam the door on a No. 1 seed and lost.
“Those sort of matches keep you up at night,” Owens said. “They won that first set, it’s a four-seed going against a one, so you want to take advantage of that as much as possible. When you get to that third set, everything is up in the air. Man, we were right there. They haven’t played doubles all year, so from that perspective, I think they played up to their ability. I think what it demonstrates overall, that with 95 percent of these teams and players, we’re right there.”
“We go through the ups and downs that the players do as coaches,” Owens went on to say. “The hardest part for us is we can’t do anything to control it, all we can do is try to guide the process. Jay is a very coachable player, I’m just happy he got through.”
Fortner returns to Bowling Green today to determine the district champ, as well as seeding for the state tournament, set to take place May 24-25 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.