Riley Yost spent four years playing tennis for Wadsworth and figured his career in the sport was over.
It wasn’t until a couple weeks into his first semester studying engineering at Otterbein University that Yost got the itch to get back on the court.
But playing college tennis was merely a thought until he was sitting behind someone in class who had “Otterbein Tennis” on the back of his shirt.
“I had no idea that Otterbein had a team,” Yost said. “I went up to (current teammate Juan Vera) and said, ‘Hey, can I play with you sometime?’ Sure enough, we played and I was like, ‘Hmm, I might be able to hang with these guys.’”
Yost began playing for Otterbein soon after, and the rest is history.
When Yost and the Cardinals take the court today in the second round of the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, the junior he will be one of the players to watch.
“I definitely didn’t think I would have this kind of success in college, but I’m happy it all worked out,” he said. “I was starting to miss tennis and stuff, and I just wanted to go out and play some more. I definitely have not regretted that.”
Neither has Otterbein. Yost carries an 18-0 singles record into the weekend, with the majority of those victories coming from the No. 6 position. Otterbein is seeded second and has posted 17 victories, its most since 2014.
While Yost is no stranger to helping teams make history — he guided Wadsworth to its first Suburban League title in 40 years as a senior in 2016 — his journey is even more improbable.
A cross country runner growing up, he had tried almost every sport but never picked up a racket until his freshman year.
“When I was growing up, I never thought I would be playing tennis at all, but some of my friends were doing it in eighth grade and stuff,” Yost said. “My dad picked up some rackets at the flea market for me and my twin brother (Jaret), and we started going the first day of practice.”
That first racket is now in a landfill far, far away, but Yost’s passion for the sport has done nothing but grow.
The 5-foot-10, 145-pounder has won 16 of his 18 matches in straight sets, four of those coming without him losing a game. The other two matches were come-from-behind wins, as he beat Midway’s J.T. Hayden 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, followed by a marathon 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 triumph over John Carroll’s Doug Moore.
“My mental game is really strong,” the 21-year-old said. “I know if they hit a great shot that there is always going to be a next ball, so I just have to be ready for that next one to come at me. I’ve always been that way — just ready to go and ready for the next shot.”
Yost attributes his success to the hours and hours he and his teammates put in over the summer.
“Just practicing with the team this offseason has gotten me better,” he said. “I just worked more on my defense and keeping the ball deep when they’re serving and trying to not let them come up to the net. That’s my goal. I want to keep the ball deep and just make more shots than my opponent.”
The Cardinals will open the OAC Tournament today with a semifinal against third-seeded Ohio Northern at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. With a win, Otterbein will battle top-ranked John Carroll or fourth-seeded Mount Union in the final, with the victor getting an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
No matter what happens this weekend, however, Yost knows he and his teammates have left it all out there.
“All the hard work has paid off,” he said. “Wee worked so hard in the offseason, and the results have shown this season. It’s been great to see all that come together.”