By Blake Moore
ADA — The Ohio Northern men's tennis program built upon a strong 2017-18 campaign with a young, talented roster during the 2018-19 season, reaching the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament finals and registering its second consecutive upper-division finish in the regular season standings under third-year head coach Mike Bonnell.
"Any time a team is young and inexperienced, there will be ups and downs throughout a season," Bonnell remarked. "The priority is identifying the right players to fill certain roles. We were able to accomplish that this year and be successful. Overall, I think the team learned a lot this season and realized what the program could achieve in the future."
This season, the Polar Bears compiled a 14-9 overall record with a 5-2 mark against conference opposition to end third in the final league standings. Their overall record also secured the program's first back-to-back winning seasons since the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns.
With the No. 3 seed in the OAC Tournament, ONU cruised past Marietta and Otterbein with 5-0 decisions in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, respectively, to reach their first title match since the 2012-13 campaign. The Orange and Black battled top-seeded John Carroll down to the wire, ultimately dropping a tight-knit 5-4 decision.
"We are turning a corner in our program, producing a team that can hopefully compete for conference championships for years to come," Bonnell stated. "We want to be in a position where we can win the tournament and regular season title each year."
For their efforts, four Polar Bears garnered All-OAC recognition from the league's head coaches following the season.
Sophomore Vinh Thai (Galloway/St. Charles) headlined the selections after being tabbed OAC Player of the Year and a First-Team All-Conference honoree. Freshman Noah Elliott (Hilliard/Davidson) joined his teammate with First-Team kudos; sophomore Hoang Do (Powell/Olentangy Liberty) brought home Second-Team All-OAC honors; and freshman Zach Beaschler (Ada) registered Honorable Mention status.
Thai earned his second consecutive First-Team nod and first OAC Player of the Year honor after posting a 31-14 overall record at the No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles slots during the season.
The sophomore tied for second on the team with 17 singles victories, which included an undefeated 5-0 mark in conference play. Meanwhile, he racked up a 14-10 record in the top doubles role with a 3-3 mark against conference opposition.
Through two seasons, Thai has posted a 60-34 overall record that includes going 30-14 in singles action and 30-20 in doubles play at Ohio Northern.
Elliott received his first career All-Conference recognition following his inaugural collegiate season.
The freshman led the Polar Bears with 21 singles victories and 37 overall wins while boasting an undefeated 6-0 singles mark in conference play. His team-best singles record also tied for the third-most wins in a single season in program history.
The Hillard native tied for second on the team with 16 doubles victories, playing primarily at No. 1 doubles with Thai, and earned OAC Player of the Week honors twice during his freshman season.
Do became a two-time All-Conference honoree after receiving Second-Team honors in 2017-18 as a freshman.
On the court, Do led ONU with a 17-5 overall mark and a 4-1 OAC record in doubles action competing on the No. 2 court. In addition, he posted a 10-10 record (3-2 OAC) in singles action and compiled 27 total victories.
Do currently owns a 56-34 overall career record, which includes a 23-19 mark in singles play and a 33-15 career doubles record.
Beaschler was tabbed to the Honorable Mention team after an impressive freshman campaign at ONU.
The Ada native tied for second on the team with 16 doubles victories, primarily teaming up with Do in the No. 2 slot. He added 13 wins in singles play in the No. 2-4 roles for the Polar Bears to end fifth on the team.
Thai also joined sophomores Joji Imatomi (Yokohoma, Japan/Kamakura Gakuen) and Joshua McClure (Mount Vernon) on the 2019 Academic All-OAC squad. All three players were recognized for the first time in their respective careers.
Imatomi, a sophomore business major, compiled an undefeated 9-0 record during the 2018-19 campaign.
The Yokohama, Japan product went 3-0 in doubles action and posted a 6-0 mark in singles play, primarily at the No. 5 slot. In addition, he boasted a perfect 3-0 mark in OAC action this season.
Imatomi currently owns an 11-0 combined record through two seasons, including an 8-0 mark in singles action and a 3-0 record in doubles play.
McClure, who studies environmental and field biology, finished the 2018-19 campaign with a spotless 3-0 record in singles action. He played exclusively at the No. 6 slot this season and recorded a 2-0 mark against conference opponents.
Through his first two seasons, McClure has built an undefeated 5-0 record on the No. 6 singles court, including a 3-0 mark against the league.
During their shortened fall slate, the Polar Bears played a challenging schedule which included stops at the Oberlin Invitational, the ITA Central Regionals in St. Louis, Missouri, and a dual with NCAA Division II foe Findlay.
Following winter break, Ohio Northern picked up its first win with a 6-3 decision over in-state, nonconference foe Wittenberg.
In March, ONU posted a 3-2 record on its annual Spring Break trip to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina with victories over Randolph (Va.), Bridgewater (Va.), and Roanoke (Va.).
After dates with Spring Arbor (Mich.), St. Francis (Ind.), and Ohio Wesleyan, the Polar Bears rattled off a seven-match win streak to open the month of April. The streak, which included five shutout victories, saw OAC victories over Heidelberg, Baldwin Wallace, Muskingum, Marietta, and Mount Union for a 5-0 record in conference play.
After dropping their final two regular season matches, the Polar Bears rebounded with an OAC Tournament run to the championship match against John Carroll at Lindner Tennis Center in Mason.
"We beefed up the schedule a lot this season," Bonnell stated. "Better teams want to play us, which shows our program is gaining recognition for our success and our ability to play with top teams in the region and conference. As we keep getting better, we will continue to push our players with tougher schedules each season."
"Beating Mount Union was a big deal for our program. We beat them 5-4 in a hostile environment with many fans cheering against our players, which helped us play better in similar situations. Also, our team beat Otterbein in the OAC semifinals after we lost to them 5-4 in the regular season. Any time you can get revenge on a team in tournament play, it is an important win."