For the great ones, it’s the losses they remember the most.
In the case of Phil Metz, a member of The News-Herald’s inaugural High School Sports Hall of Fame class, the losses do linger, but one huge victory resonates.
On the tennis court, 1999 Mentor graduate rarely met his match, losing four times in four seasons. The timing of those losses brought heartbreak, but also led to sweet redemption as a senior.
Metz was undefeated as a senior at 26-0 and won the 1999 Division I singles title in Columbus, where he would have a standout tennis career at Ohio State.
Flashback to the 1998 season, when Metz entered the state tournament as a junior and the favorite to win Division I singles. When his first-round match at state was complete, Metz was headed home, stunned and trying to accept defeat.
“I remember telling myself, ‘I’m done, I’m never playing (high school) tennis again.’ ” said Metz in a phone interview from Minneapolis, where he resides. “That was the initial thought before I got my head on straight. I was glad the way I responded my senior year.”
Metz entered the state tournament 22-0 and cruised to 6-1, 6-3 and 6-0, 6-0 wins on the first day. The following day, he defeated Eric Pittman of Cincinnati Sycamore, 6-2, 6-2, then Upper Arlington’s Jimmy McGuire by the same score in the final.
A few postseason hiccups went by the wayside with the state title win.
“Not winning (a state title) until my senior year … I had to win it,” said Metz. “I had to persevere. When you set goals for yourself, and you don’t achieve them, you learn a lot about yourself and how you react to it.”
Metz’s high school credentials are impressive: Four state tournament appearances, a D-I singles state runner-up finish as a sophomore, his 1999 D-I singles state title and a perfect 26-0 mark as a senior.
For that, he credits his grandmother, Susan Cannon, who introduced her grandson to tennis at 5. Cannon had a built-in tennis court in her Mentor backyard.
“But it wasn’t until I was 10 that I was committed to tennis,” Metz said.Metz had success playing in the junior ranks — at one time, he was ranked as high as No. 22 nationally by the United States Tennis Association — and by the time he was a Mentor freshman he was a household name.”In Northeast Ohio, he was definitely one of the biggest fish in the water. The king of the hill,” said University’s Vince Ng, a state champion who handed Metz one of his four losses in high school and played at Ohio State with Metz.
Still, it took a while to achieve ultimate success at Mentor. He lost in the state quarterfinals as a freshman. The next season, he appeared ready to claim a state title before losing to Perryburg’s Bob Wellstein in the D-I singles final.
“I was up 5-2 in the third set and winning 40-0, and lost.” said Metz, 32, who works a tennis instructor at Lifetime Fitness in Minneapolis. “That was really tough.”
The next season as a junior, he entered state as the favorite in D-I singles, but endured a first-round loss, which forced Metz to do some soul searching.
It was then that a meeting with Steve DeVore, who eventually became his personal coach during his senior season, at the Mentor Heisely Racquet and Fitness Club helped pave the way to a dominant campaign.
“I don’t think he realized how good he was at that point,” DeVore said, when asked about his initial meetings with Metz. “He needed someone to get him to believe in that. I think deep down he understood he was good, but couldn’t understand why he wasn’t winning.”
To prepare for his senior season, Metz said he “internalized,” mostly because the pressure to win that elusive state title was amplified.
“Knowing it was your last season and with everything on the line, you train with no regrets,” said Metz. “You wanted to work harder than your opponent, and I think I did that. I learned a lot.”
“If anything, (winning a state title) was more of a relief.”
Metz credits his turnaround to DeVore, who, years later, in turn admitted it was more about Metz’s talent that stood over all.
“The high school barometer of tennis doesn’t began to tap into how talented he (was in high school),” DeVore said. “He to this day has one of the world’s best backhands. The world. It’s that good. It’s not a high school barometer. It’s a worldwide barometer about how talented he is.
“His raw knowledge and understanding of the game was sickeningly good. You don’t see players like Phil Metz in high school but once every 20 and 25 years, and he just didn’t realize it. That was the part of his game that needed work.”
Following high school, Metz was a standout at Ohio State, winning 93 matches, which ranks ninth in OSU history. He likely would have ranked higher but missed most of his senior season at OSU with an injury.
Metz helped guide the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship his sophomore season, in which he was 37-11 and an NCAA tournament qualifier. After college, he tried the pro circuit for a few years before retiring from tennis, but the game is never away from his thoughts, especially his triumph as a senior.
“To work so hard to redeem myself … It was extra sweet,” said Metz.
- Who: 2013 News-Herald High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee
- Sport: Boys tennis
- High school: Mentor
- Where are they now?: Metz, 32, is a tennis pro at Lifetime Fitness in Minneapolis
- High school highlights: A 1999 Mentor High graduate, Metz won the Division I singles state title, finishing the season 26-0. … Lost four matches in four seasons at Mentor. … Was the D-I singles state runner-up as a sophomore. … Was a four-time state qualifier, and named Mentor’s Athlete of the Year as a senior.
By Mark Podolski | MPodolski@News-Herald.com | Twitter: @mpodo