MASON — There was a lot to be happy about Saturday after a third-place finish for Tucker Culpepper.
The Legacy Christian freshman had successfully announced himself as a strong player amongst the elite group of younger players making up the field in this year’s Division II state singles tournament.
He had a dominating first set win against the eventual state champion during the semifinals. He has the respect of his peers, as evidenced by how many congratulated him following his wins.
Most of all, it was clear Culpepper was just happy with his performance.
“I was really happy with how I played today and I hope I can learn from it for next year,” he said.
Culpepper had previously spoken during the earlier rounds of the tournament how he learned to enjoy getting to see the results from hard work in practice and dedicating himself to improving. There wasn’t a better setting to continue those experiences than at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason on Saturday.
Facing Ben Pomeranets from Pepper Pike Orange in the semifinals, he put in one of his best performances early. A 6-1 win was right in line with how earlier matches had been playing out, but this one was happening against the 2021 state runner-up and 2022 Northeast district champion. Pomeranets, however, eventually “figured things out” in the second set on his way to taking the final two sets, 6-2, 6-3, but not before it was 3-3 in the third set.
Culpepper’s coaches held the belief he may have just gotten a bit too excited with how well things were playing out and let things get slightly ahead of himself. There wasn’t anything to feel bad about though if that was the case, because even without picking up the win to advance to the finals, he showed how he is more than capable of getting there in the future.
Pomeranets went on to avenge his loss to Andrew Zimcosky of Chargin Falls and won the state title.
Culpepper had a third-place match against Pomeranets teammate, Chika Nwaozuzu, and was presented with new challenges. One involving bouncing back after a loss. A second was adjusting to Nwaozuzu’s slower style.
Utilizing an underhand slice serve to go with a volley and lob attack, Culpepper’s power game had to be geared down early.
“How do I deal with this weird serve?” head coach Teresa Day said of the adjustments needed. “It puts you off what you know and takes you out of a rhythm.”
His serve broken midway through the first set and trailing in the match, something was found that completely turned the tide. Culpepper began positioning himself closer to the net to get easier returns, which led to more points won and eventually him taking the final four games of the set.
Nwaozuzu’s coach tried to encourage him to get through Culpepper’s big serve and win points where he could, but it quickly became no use. Culpepper already had momentum and control in the match and went on to cruise to a 6-3, 6-2.
It was evident he was the better player on this day, except for one brief outburst where he declared him a “horrible tennis player” following a volley into the net.
“I was just frustrated trying to get out emotions,” Culpepper said.
The comment drew smiles and chuckles from the crowd of supporters in attendance. Everyone in the moment seemed to know two things: He holds himself to a high standard, and he clearly isn’t a bad tennis player.
Now with the tournament and season over, it’s back to training to get rid of the bad and improve on the good in his game.
Culpepper said he could see himself taking a day off, but is ready to get right back on the court and keep his game sharp.
Getting a taste of success at this stage is certainly good encourage to want to get there again.
“Five months ago if you told me I would get third, I would think you were crazy because I was just going downhill,” he said. “I just want to thank God for giving me the mental strength. My parents for everything they do and my coaches for sticking with me, thanks to them for coming out and supporting me.”