Going into the 2021 spring season, Todd Nassief had the same concerns as many coaches whose boys tennis teams had not been on the court in two years.
The St. John coach said he did not know what to expect this season.
“We could have finished first, we could have finished fourth,” Nassief said. “I would not have been surprised by anything.”
As the season proceeded, however, Nassief became more and more amazed at what his team was able to accomplish.
A win over Geneva in late April, the first-ever over the Eagles for a St. John boys’ team, pushed its record to 10-0 and had everyone thinking, but certainly not talking about the possibility of a perfect season.
“It was almost like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter,” Nassief said with a laugh. “We just didn’t talk about our record anymore. You could kind of see it in sight, though. We had a couple of tough teams on the schedule. If we could get past them, we could have a perfect season, but we didn’t talk about it much after that Geneva match.”
As it turned out, the perfect season was foiled with a loss to Lakeside, who according to Nassief ‘played a phenomenal match’ against his group, on May 4.
It was the only blemish for the Heralds this season. St. John finished with a record of 19-1 and won both the Ashtabula County tournament and its division of the Northeast Ohio Tennis Association.
Nassief was also selected the county Coach of the Year.
What makes their accomplishments all the more impressive is they did it without the services of any one particular star player.
No Herald advanced to the Division II district tournament this spring. Instead, it was just a matter of different players stepping up at the right time to help win matches.
“We didn’t do it with a superstar,” Nassief said. “It kind of shows me that when it came to match time, our kids really stepped up. There were a lot of teams with much better players than us, but I think as a whole, if we had to win at first singles, or second doubles, they got it done. It didn’t matter where the kids won from, and I was really proud of them in that regard.”
Several players had strong regular seasons.
Dave DiSalvatore, one of four seniors on the team, went 15-10 at first singles.
Jack Hammers dominated second singles play, going 21-0, while sophomore Jacob Timonere emerged to go 18-3 at third singles.
The Heralds doubles play was also strong. Andy Grippi and Jimmy Severino went 19-3 at first doubles, while Sam Housel and Coby Haynes were 5-0 at second doubles.
Housel and Andrew Williams also went 7-3 (0-1 first doubles).
The four seniors on the team, DiSalvatore, Hammers, Housel and Octavio Llamas, finished with a combined 52-7 team record over three years.
As a coach, Nassief said that success comes in continuing to learn and develop.
“I try to take the best from every coach I’ve ever met, I try to learn from everybody,’’ he said. “I kind of feel like a hypocrite if I tell my kids ‘I want you to improve this year’ if I don’t improve as a coach.”
To be named coach of the year, is the crowning achievement for the entire team to celebrate, especially his assistant coaches.
“It really should be the coaching staff of the year, ‘‘ Nassief said. “Kayla Johnston has been there every step of the way with these teams. John Meola, when he can get off work, he comes and helps and Janet Yeagley, when she comes back from Florida, she helps a lot also.”