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Potters team up for state

(Submitted photo) The East Liverpool doubles team of Preston Dawson (left) and Norman Butler are heading to the Division II state tennis tournament on Friday.

EAST LIVERPOOL — East Liverpool tennis duo Preston Dawson and Norman Butler are not bothered being an underdog in a sport that is usually dominated by blue-blood programs across the state.

“These bigger schools never expect schools in the middle of nowhere and small towns to come out in a big tournament and do what we did,” Butler, a senior, said.

The Potter doubles team completed a thrilling and exhausting day on Saturday by winning three district matches to earn a berth in the Div. II state tournament scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.

The pieces were put in place for this run over the winter when the team paired up to win a local league against area high school tennis players at the Ohio Valley Racquet Club in downtown East Liverpool. Their high school coach Isaac Davidson thought then that they might have a chance to do something in the high school postseason.

Unlike other programs where Dawson and Butler might have the luxury of consistently playing as a double team during the regular season that was not the case this spring.

Dawson was the Potters second singles player behind standout Cole Dailey. Butler was part of doubles teams with Ayden Payne and Jude Mercer.

The Potters went 12-4 as a team and won the OVAC small school title along the way, so it turned out to be a good regular season strategy.

“You don’t really think about the postseason during the regular season,” Butler said. “But once it started to get close to the tournaments we practiced a little more together.”

During the sectionals at Dover is where the doubles chemistry really started to mix between the pair.

“They had a little experience playing together before this, but this was really the first time during the season they had to learn and adjust to each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Davidson said.

The team finished a disappointing fourth in what they admitted was not a strong sectional tournament. Davidson said the pair was not happy with the performance but understood what was needed in the next few practices before the district tournament in Portsmouth.

“They saw their weaknesses and went back to work on them,” Davidson said. “They knew they could play a whole lot better than they showed.”

The hard work paid off even though as Butler said they had the weather and stiff competition working against them after placing fourth in the sectional.

Saturday’s opener featured a win against a team from Wheelersburg that was completed in the morning hours. Both admitted it was already starting to get really hot. During the 40-minute break between matches the two sat in Dawson’s father’s truck with the air conditioning blasting.

The water and sports drink intake was also very high.

“I drank eight or nine bottles of water and three or four BodyArmor (sports drinks) throughout the day,” Dawson said.

In the early afternoon, the top-seeded team of Waylon Lamerson and Caden Nibert of Waverly stood in the pair’s way.

“When we started to win points, Waverly started to beat themselves down basically,” Butler said. “They started arguing with each other and we knew we got into their heads. They basically beat themselves. We just never gave up and I think that is what pushed us on to strive forward from there.”

It was a 6-4, 6-4 win in favor of the Potters. All that stood in their way was Ian Berger and Xander Carroll from Logan Elm in the semifinal. Oh and also the late afternoon heat. And also two matches going more than two hours each before that.

The Potters quickly fell into a hole with a 6-4 loss in the first set. Then they decided to regroup.

“We had to fight back,” Dawson said. “We told each other what we needed to do and that was to keep hitting it toward the one kid’s backhand.”

“We talked to each other and decided we didn’t want to go home,” Butler said. “We made some changes and won that second set. We got them flustered and they were not expecting that. We had nothing to lose at that point.”

What followed were set wins of 7-5 and 6-4 as well as a state berth.

The next day, the very tired pair had to play a district final for placement reasons and lost that in straight sets.

Knowing they would play again at state helped blunt the disappoint of the district final loss to a team from Athens.

“It is my senior season and I don’t want it to end yet,” Butler said. “I want to help Preston improve, too, because he is just a sophomore. I feel like I’m his mentor even though we are buddies. I am helping him out and want to see him do well throughout the next few years.”

Dawson and Butler are scheduled to play Lexington freshman duo Karl Etzel and Ethan Remy in the first round on Friday. Etzel and Remy finished as runner-ups in the Northwest district. Etzel and Remy lost the district final to Lexington juniors Ryan Mecurio and Ross Drlik.

“We haven’t been doing any scouting for these matches, but that might be something we look into this week,” Dawson said.

State notes

¯ Dawson and Butler did not play any tennis during the spring and most of the summer last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking part in the fall league at the Ohio Valley Racquet Club and playing recreationally at Thompson Park as the only tennis they got in at the end of 2020.

¯ Spectator tickets are $15 per day for the state tournament.

¯ The tournament begins at 9 a.m. on Friday.

¯ The Lindner Family Tennis Center is home to the Western and Southern Open on the ATP circuit. It is usually contested in August.

¯ The last East Liverpool boys doubles team to make the state tournament was Chris Montgomery and Alex Tambellini in 2018.

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