MASON — Facing a seasoned opponent, Tucker Culpepper picked up one of his biggest wins on a tennis court Friday.
The Legacy Christian freshman capped a stellar first day at the Division II state singles tournament by securing a spot in the semifinals with his 7-5, 6-3, victory against Waverly senior Penn Morrison at the Five Seasons club in Mason.
Morrison had reached the state quarterfinals in all three tournaments he competed in, but Culpepper fought to make it past that round in his first attempt.
“I want to thank God first, my coaches, everyone who came out,” he said. “It’s a challenge. You just have to go out there and just see what happens.”
It’s the same demeanor he displayed following his qualification out of districts, but Morrison brought out something other opponents have not.
Culpepper appeared to channel mid-match frustrations and found ways to funnel his emotions into his play. After having his serve broken at 4-3 in the opening set and falling behind 0-30 on his next game, he fought through for a crucial hold. He later did the same in the second set down 2-1 and went on to take the next four games, also commenting how pleased his was with his play during a change over.
“Tucker’s brand new to high school tennis, he’s brand new to this tournament,” LCA coach Teresa Day said. “We’re trying to help him learn that you have to keep your composure, you have to keep your head up. You have to try to stay calm, so that the opponent doesn’t necessarily feed off that.”
He let out joyous emotions after needing only one of three match points in his serve to earn a semifinal berth, but getting his spot in the quarterfinals earlier in the day came much easier.
Against Ethan Remy from Lexington, he cruised, 6-0, 6-1, in a match where he hit several solid winners but was able to simply outlast his opponent into making mistakes.
Cruise control had set in at 3-0 in the second set, where he and Day discussed and compared the lighting in the court area compared to other clubs instead of anything having to do with play.
Day noted she thought the Morrison match was better for Culpepper’s future growth compared to the Remy match.
“I liked this match better, even though it was a struggle,” she said after the Morrison match. “Struggling is a good thing, and then coming out on top after you struggle and you push through it.”
Awaiting Culpepper on Saturday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center is Ben Pomeranets, a junior from Pepper Pike Orange and the state runner-up last year. The match is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. with the finals and third-place matches to take place afterward.
Culpepper may potentially face all four finishers from the 2021 on his path through this year’s tournament. In addition to Pomeranets, he defeated Jack Pollock, who finished fourth, in the district quarterfinals where he finished runner-up after losing to Avi Mahajan, who was third last year.
Andrew Zimcosky, the two-time reigning state champion out of Chargin Falls, is in the other semifinal facing Chika Nwaozuzu also of Orange.
“It’s going to be tough,” Day said. “He’s got to bring everything. He has got to go home, get a good night’s sleep, come back and just lay everything on the line point by point. … This is this is the stuff that he needs for next year and the year after and the year after.”
Day also said she’s proud of Culpepper for what he has accomplished to date. It’s evident the rest of his support system is too with the large number friends, family and school personnel in attendance.
Two more matches are left in his freshman year, and it could end in the grandest of ways if he continues on his current path. In the meantime, he’s remaining collected within himself.
“I’m happy to make it into the top-four, which is pretty impressive for a freshmen,” he said.
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.