Lake Ridge seniors Caleb Mayer and Roger Peckham have taken similar paths in their tennis careers.
Both took up the sport at age 10, taking lessons and playing competitively shortly after.
Both enrolled at Lake Ridge Academy four years ago and immediately became the cornerstones of coach Rich Robbins’ program.
Together they’ve qualified to the Division II district tournament five times — Mayer all three years and Peckham the past two.
Now they hope to close their high school careers with a bang.
“Roger and I are both hoping to get back to districts this year, and hopefully beyond that,” said Mayer, an Oberlin resident. “It would be great to become a four-time district qualifier. I think sectionals (at Rocky River’s Tri-City Park) are going to be tougher this year with Beachwood coming over.
“It’s going to be a bit more of a challenge, but I think it’s going to be a great accomplishment if it happens.”
Peckham, a Westlake resident, and Mayer have stumbled in the past once they’ve gotten to districts. Not only have they failed to get past the first round, they’ve struggled to win games and sets at the district tournament in Canton.
“Individually, if we could get to districts, to win at least a set, if not more,” Peckham said. “I’ve never won a set at districts in my two other opportunities. I’ve only won one game at districts, so I haven’t had many good performances there.
“We play a couple of better teams this year in Westlake and Beachwood. … I feel like our regular season will give us a nice tune-up for the postseason and prepare us better for districts, if we get back.”
Mayer and Peckham enjoy a friendly rivalry on the court. They constantly practice together, hitting balls and playing in challenge matches for the first singles spot. They believe pushing each other in practice has helped them improve.
“It’s always great to have another tough player to practice with, to hit with,” Mayer said. “If you just play with people who are way below your level, when you play someone who is at or above your level, it’s going to be a tough transition. But I think it’s great for us to be on the same team and to practice against one another.”
Added Peckham: “I’d definitely say it’s motivated me to play better and get better at tennis, having a talented teammate in Caleb. I think we push each other to be better.”
With their success at the singles level, some coaches might try to pair them up as a doubles team for the postseason. Not only has Robbins resisted the temptation, both Mayer and Peckham have also shot down the idea.
“I’m of the school of thought that if you play singles all year, you play singles in postseason,” Robbins said. “They’re not that thrilled about the possibility, to be honest. Caleb’s been playing doubles with men at the North Ridge Racquet Club this year, but you’ve got to play a lot together to develop chemistry and know what the guy’s going to do without saying anything.
“Just knowing their games, I think singles are the way to go with them.”
“I never really gave a thought to it,” he said. “My thought is, if I’m not confident about winning a match at districts on my own, how could I be confident that I could do it in doubles? I’m working on my own confidence to get over that hump. To make that transition to doubles on the fly, even though we’re both talented players, you can’t expect a state berth to automatically happen.”
Robbins, who has helped teach Mayer privately at FoxCreek Racquet Club in Lorain for many years, knew he was getting something special when the two enrolled as freshmen.
“Caleb’s main strength is his mental toughness on court, his forehand and serve are big, and he has a consistent backhand,” Robbins said. “I don’t want to give out all of his secrets. He can cover the court and is not afraid to go to the net when he needs to. He covers the net well.
“Roger is not as tough mentally, but he may be more this year. He’s got a big game, and when he’s on, he’s tough to beat. If he keeps his marbles together, he’ll be a tough one to beat. He’s got a big forehand and serve, and he’s not afraid of the net either. Both guys are big and strong.”
Mayer finished second at the Rocky River sectional last year, while Peckham finished fourth. With the other two top four finishers at sectionals — Vermilion’s Chaz Hansen and Rocky River’s Henry Grierson — having graduated, the Lake Ridge duo could be the top two seeds this year.
“Sectionals are more difficult this year than it was last year with Beachwood coming,” Robbins said. “I think they’ve been working hard at their game. There’s a good chance they both qualify for districts again, but there’s no guarantees for anything.”