Fortner charges to hit shot

Photo by Michael Burwell

Bryan’s Jay Fortner charges at the net to hit a shot during his No. 1 singles match against Lima Shawnee on Thursday at Bryan High School.

Jay Fortner entered the boys tennis season as one of the top players in Ohio, but what the Bryan standout has done so far has been nothing short of remarkable.

The Golden Bears’ junior and returning state qualifier has won all 14 of his matches at No. 1 singles in straight sets entering Monday.

His closest match was 6-1, 6-1, which has happened three times.

He has lost just nine total games.

“Here’s the thing people don’t understand; Jay’s not playing poor competition,” Bryan coach Mitchell Owens said. “This is way better competition this year than he played his freshman year by far.”

Fortner has been the backbone to Bryan’s solid start. The Golden Bears have gone 12-2 in their first 14 matches; are ranked No. 7 in the Division II Northwest District in the latest Ohio Tennis Coaches Association poll; and recently posted a 3-2 victory over No. 6 Lima Shawnee at Bryan High School.

“I feel like the big difference from freshman year is I just have a lot more experience. I’ve been through the whole process once, and that experience just helps my mental game so much,” Fortner said. “I’ve been so confident through the start of the season, and if I’m being honest, I feel like I’ve faced better talent than I did freshman year at the start of the season.

“But just that experience is so key and has helped me so much this year.”

Fortner made an immediate impact as a freshman for the Golden Bears. He posted a school-record 24 wins, finished runner-up in the Division II district singles tournament and went 1-1 in reaching the quarterfinals of the OHSAA state tourney at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.

After his sophomore campaign was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fortner’s mindset this season has been “just to never be satisfied.”

“I accomplished a lot freshman year, but it can’t be enough,” he said. “I’ve got to push for more this year, push to get better, just improve on every aspect of my game.”

One area that Fortner has been working on has been his play at the net. Fortner’s length has been a huge factor, but his quick reactions and touch on his shots have fueled his success.

“That’s the one thing I’ve felt like I’ve been good at for a long time, those short angles and stuff,” Fortner said. “It’s something I really wasn’t able to do a ton freshman year because my big issue was I wasn’t able to get to the net, get an opportunity to get to the net. But this year, I’m definitely trying to work on taking advantage of that strength and utilizing it more in my matches.”

Added Owens: “I think it’s intimidating to opponents. What’s unique about Jay’s play is it’s not a power game at the net; his touch at the net is unbelievable. He can take a ball being drilled at him and just bloop it right over the net.

“It’s really about his touch. He puts it right where he wants it. If he gets it up above the net, he’ll smash it too.”

Bryan has squared off against multiple teams ranked in the OTCA poll, including No. 3 Ottawa-Glandorf (both losses have come against the Titans) and No. 5 Lima Central Catholic (4-1 win on April 6).

Two of the biggest tests for the Golden Bears the rest of the regular season will be Division II No. 1-ranked Ottawa Hills on Tuesday at Bryan High School, as well as Division I No. 5 Anthony Wayne on May 11 at home. Ottawa Hills features two-time state singles qualifier and senior Matthew McGee, who beat Fortner 6-3, 6-0 for the district title two years ago.

No matter who he is going up against, Fortner wants to treat every match the same.

“You’ve got to just try to play every match the same, whether it’s a weak opponent or a strong opponent,” Fortner said. “You’ve got to go out there and try to play the best you can, try to improve on your game and in those close matches, more experience and more mental toughness is definitely going to help.

“But you just have to treat every match the same.”

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