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Prep Talk: Starpoint tennis goes from raw to well done

It's safe to say Starpoint's boys tennis players have shed the beginner label.

That's what happens when a bunch of athletes – who until two years ago had hardly ever picked up a racket – win a league championship.

The Spartans went 10-0 in ECIC III to clinch the program's first league championship since 2003 and its first since the Spartans' teams left the Niagara-Orleans League for the Erie County Interscholastic Conference during the mid-2000s. Starpoint also sent five competitors to this week's ECIC Tournament.

While it's not uncommon for coaches to recruit other athletes to fill spots on their teams, what the Spartans pulled off is quite attention-getting when you look at the numbers. This season's 20-man roster includes just one player whose primary sport is tennis.


That's fourth-year member and senior Jeff Edbauer, the team's first singles player.

The rest of the roster includes athletes who don't hold a racket all that often before spring. Some spike a ball, while others kick it. Some also are pretty adept at making plays with a stick, not a racket, in hand.

"Imagine a bunch of kids coming out that hadn't played softball or baseball, and you had to show them how to hold a bat or ball," longtime Starpoint coach Rob Olear said. "That's how this was.

"With the kids, I look at them and we even talk about it … I know this is your second sport or third sport. They just decided this is something they liked to do. This is just a special group."

How special?

Starpoint's unbeaten first doubles team includes a Division I volleyball recruit Campbell Schoenfeld and soccer player in Jonas Hauser. They earned a No. 9 seed in the ECIC Tournament.

Another doubles team formed for ECICs included a soccer (Max Balko) and hockey player (Josh Wildt) – who handled second and third singles respectively most of the season. Starpoint's unbeaten second doubles team featured two volleyball players, senior Derek Klemer and junior Victor Zhilevich.

These Starpoint athletes’ primary sports may not be tennis but it didn’t stop them from winning the league championship. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

The roster includes six members of the volleyball team, five from soccer, four hockey players and a football player.

"It's cool that we were just a group of friends that wanted to do something fun together," Schoenfeld said. "We learned how to play. We've gotten better and we've come all this way."

Schoenfeld said Eric Schreader made a bet with Matt Drake during freshman year that if he didn't make the track team he'd try out for tennis. Schoenfeld joined them in their tennis quest, while they in turn convinced three other volleyball teammates to give tennis a try. They also convinced several of their friends – most of them athletes in other sports – to do the same.

"We tried out just to play for fun and we've stuck with it," Schoenfeld said. "It's nice to play a different sport. … We didn't have in mind winning the title."

They did it even though Olear said most players on the team hit roughly five to six times total during the entire offseason.

"They just want to stay in shape," said Olear, a member of the school's athletic wall of fame who has been a part of seven of the Spartans' nine championship teams – including three during his scholastic playing days. "It's crazy. They're just athletes. Their main things are these other sports but they came out for the team and turned out to be something special."

The group not only turned into a championship unit but also perhaps saved the program. Two years ago, Olear wasn't sure there would be enough kids to come out for the team. Sure, he had two with tennis experience slated to come out but would anyone else show up for that first tryout?

To borrow a WWE fan chant: "Yes, yes, yes."

Thirty-two other student-athletes showed up, eager to step outside their comfort zone.

"It was a really scary time," Olear said. "I kept thinking, 'What am I going to do?' But once we got going, these guys picked it up so fast. … We had a couple practices and they just did what I asked them to do and nobody does that off the bat. I thought this could be something special."

The Spartans went 6-6 that season. They followed that with another 6-6 campaign, but the double teams won all their head-to-head matches against league competition – including the really tough teams.

They showed signs of being able to do better than finish .500. They showed they could perhaps be a division contender – forcing Olear to make a tough decision heading into 2017. He trimmed the roster to 20 to aid in player development as Starpoint doesn't have a junior varsity team nor does Olear have any assistants.

Olear said it has helped as he went from teaching basic fundamentals to different strategies to use in matches.

Starpoint is an aggressive serve-and-volley team as Olear finds ways to put his players in positions of strength in doubles matches. They also have a knack of remaining composed, even when they are trailing. There have been several instances where players have rallied to win.

"He gets them to work together," Sweet Home coach Brian Koziol said of Olear. "When you get that core group, something special can happen and that's happened with Rob's group."

Most of that group will be  back next year looking to do what it's been doing since 2015.

Listen. Learn. Work. Have fun.

"I've had teams loaded with much better tennis players (in terms of techniques) but the No. 1 aspect with these guys coaching is raw talent," Olear said. "They come in and ask 'What do I do coach?'

"It's fun to coach them."

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