Bryan freshman singles player Jay Fortner saw his record-breaking season come to an end Friday in the quarterfinals of the OHSAA Division II Boys State Tennis Tournament.
He won his first match of the day over Brandon Nibert of Waverly 6-0, 6-2, but fell in the quarterfinals to Andrew Zimcosky of Chagrin Falls 6-0, 6-0.
Nibert was a returning state qualifier and a senior, but Fortner’s lack of experience didn’t phase him at the state’s biggest stage.
“It was a pretty even match, watching them warmup and everything,” coach Mitchell Owens said. “Jay just played...he was on top of his game. He just made the extra shot every time he needed it to win the games.”
Fortner took hold early on and earned a resounding 6-0 victory in the first set. After an inspired effort from Nibert that saw Fortner actually trail in the second set of the day, a quick adjustment rocketed him past Nibert for the 6-2 win in the second set.
“It was a good match for him, it was a good matchup for him,” Owens said. “Jay, he peaked today. He played two very strong matches, even though the results were very different, he played two very strong matches back-to-back.”
The win gave Fortner his first ever victory at states and sent him to the quarterfinals of the Division II bracket.
“It was surreal,” Fortner said. “I just came in wanting to have fun, didn’t expect really to win a match. It feels really good, I had a lot of support. I had four teammates come all the way down to Cincinnati, so that was really cool. It was just a great experience.”
Fortner’s day wasn’t over, though, as he still had to play in the second match of the day against Zimcosky of Chagrin Falls. The matchup was between two freshmen, vying for a trip to the final four of the state tournament.
“We told him, ‘You’ve accomplished what every freshman would love to accomplish in their first year of high school tennis,” Owens said. “Just go out and enjoy the moment.’ And I think he did, that sort of took the edge off and he was able to go out and play his game.”
And while the score wasn’t favorable to Fortner in a 6-0, 6-0 loss, it’s not indicative how close the match really was.
Eight of the 12 games went to deuce and the other four were 40-30. He was just a shot behind the entire way.
“The kid he played was stronger, he had a few more shots than Jay did,” Owens said. “That’s the difference, that’s what made a close match not look close. But it was not a blowout. It was a fun match to watch.”
The match, though, gave Fortner some hope leading into next year, where he’ll return as a sophomore. He’ll already have the program record for wins (24) in a season under his belt, as well as the experience of the state tournament in his mind.
“It shows I still have work to do, but it also shows I have the capability to compete at that level,” Fortner said. “I just have to keep working hard, and who knows, maybe next year or the year after that, I’ll win a match like that. Get that one extra shot per game.”