For two full months this spring, Austin Hanna was absolutely unbeatable.
The Cloverleaf junior mowed down opponent after opponent during the regular season, then cruised through his first 10 postseason matches — dropping one total set — in one of the greatest runs in Medina County boys tennis history.
Hanna became just the third local player to carry an undefeated record into the state tournament, along with Colts alumni Ethan Dunbar (2009 and 2010) and Jacob Dunbar (2013).
As a result, the soft-spoken standout joined them as three-time Gazette MVPs — and can match Ethan Dunbar as a four-time winner next spring. The last time a non-Cloverleaf player was named MVP was in 2006.
“Austin had a tremendous season,” Colts coach Mike McGee said. “The most impressive thing about it is all of his accomplishments were improvements from last year. That shows how hard he is working on his game — both physically and mentally — and wants to be the best player that he can be.”
Hanna went 18-0 in the regular season, wrapping it by winning the Portage Trail Conference first singles title and league MVP award. He tacked on five more victories in capturing the Rocky River Division II Sectional crown, but received his first true test of the campaign in the semifinals.
Lutheran West’s Erik Buetow forced him to a third set before Hanna defeated him 7-5, 4-6, 6-1. He then dominated defending sectional and district champion Adam Krueger of Bay in the final 6-2, 6-1.
“The biggest improvement that I saw with Austin this year was his mental toughness,” McGee said. “Situations like his tough sectional semifinal match would have probably made him nervous or put a little doubt in his mind last season, but he was able to fight through them.
“He is really maturing on the court and making better decisions, and doing it on his own.”
Hanna also is growing physically, now standing 6-foot-2, which can have an adverse effect on an elite athlete’s footwork. Recognizing this, he took his training to another level in the offseason.
In order to maintain his smooth flow, he worked with a running and strength coach (Sean Robbins), in addition to his regular hitting sessions with the Dunbars and his practice work at Springside Racquet Club.
“I specifically worked on movement and consistency,” he explained. “I also believe my mental toughness definitely made a difference all season, especially at the end of the season on the way to state.”
Hanna crushed all four of his foes in winning the Akron District, including his fourth straight-set victory of the year over Norton’s Justin Csepe, a two-time state qualifier.
The district title earned him a second consecutive trip to the state tournament, having done so in 2015 when Cloverleaf was classified as a D-I school.
Since the OHSAA moved the event from Ohio State to Mason this year, it allowed Hanna to play on the courts at the world famous Lindner Family Tennis Center — home to ATP and WTA professional events for decades.
The latter fact made Hanna even more excited to compete at state, where he beat Dayton Miami Valley’s Colton Morehart 6-3, 7-5 in the first round before falling to Jacob Wareti of Gahanna Columbus Academy 6-0, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
It was his only loss in a spectacular 28-1 season that ranks as the sixth winningest in the county.
“I didn’t really think about being undefeated before going to state because I was just excited to play,” Hanna said. “I was able to play matches on the Grandstand and Center Court, which was a lot of fun.”
Not only did Hanna have incredible individual success, he helped Cloverleaf’s inexperienced squad to its best season in three years.
The Colts went 5-11, including 4-8 in the PTC, and finished fourth at the seven-team league tournament.
Second singles player Reilly Cipullo and third singlist Kyle Young — both sophomores — won five regular-season matches apiece, giving Cloverleaf genuine optimism that it can contend for a top spot in 2017.
Hanna also enters the offseason as one of the top college recruits in Northeast Ohio. A home-schooled student, he enjoys studying mathematics but is still determining his course of study.
“Everything about playing tennis for Cloverleaf has been a lot of fun,” he said. “I always like having my family there cheering me on, and it’s great having teammates to support. I’m already looking forward to next year.”