Justin Bolin began developing his tennis strokes standing on the top of a ping pong table as a toddler, trying to paddle the ball back to his parents.
Now the Ross High School senior is tough to beat on the tennis court.
Bolin recently won the Southwest Ohio Conference tournament at No. 1 singles to collect his third straight SWOC Player of the Year award, and he enters this week’s Division II sectional tournament at Mason as the fourth seed.
“He started playing ping pong with us around 2 or 3 years old, and that kind of got the strokes going for him OK, I guess, and then we put him in some clinics around 6, 7, 8 years old,” said Bolin’s mother, Gerri, who is a volunteer assistant coach for Ross. “He seemed to take to it pretty quickly and it just evolved from there. He’s done very well.”
Bolin, whose father Rob played tennis at the University of Dayton, is 62-13 overall for his four-year varsity career and 25-2 in SWOC matches, with both losses coming his freshman year when he collected the first of four All-SWOC first-team honors.
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Over the years, he has gained more and more confidence and winning seemed to come more easily. He is 17-2 overall this season and 5-0 in SWOC regular-season matches.
“I definitely feel like I’ve improved,” Bolin said. “Coming into high school, I had experience playing (USTA) matches, but it was a lot different. I was not confident, I guess, my freshman year and didn’t play aggressive. I do my best playing aggressive, which comes along with confidence.”
Experiencing a little success during his freshman year did wonders for his confidence, but Ross coach Dick Ballard said he isn’t a showy player. In fact, it would be difficult to tell whether Bolin is winning or losing a match just by watching his demeanor.
“He’s very humble,” Ballard said. “He’s probably the best player that ever played at Ross, but you would never know that talking to him, and he is real even-keeled on the court. He’s real calm, doesn’t say anything or dispute calls, just really classy. And he doesn’t get angry if he misses a point and doesn’t pump his fists if he wins. He just plays each point.”
Ballard wonders how much better Bolin would have been had he just focused on tennis, though.
Bolin also enjoys playing trumpet, which he will continue in marching band at the University of Kentucky next year. Being in band at times took away from his attention to tennis, but Ballard said it has made him a “well-rounded kid.” Bolin will not play tennis in college as he pursues a major in animal science, but plans to continue playing recreationally.
“I started band in middle school, and it’s something I always enjoyed,” Bolin said. “I love tennis, but with band it’s such a great group of people, so many people around you, it’s not something I would want to leave to play tennis.”
What he loves about band is also what he loves about playing tennis at Ross. He said the team aspect of it is what he has enjoyed the most.
As for the sport itself, he said he is driven by the challenge of trying to figure out ways to beat difficult opponents and the fact every match is different.
Bolin will be especially motivated this week at sectionals as he is still trying to advance to his first district tournament. Last year, he got to the third round and was about to face an opponent he had already swept 6-0, 6-0 twice before when he cramped up and had to go to the hospital, ending his tournament prematurely.
“It was pretty frustrating,” Bolin said. “There was nothing I could really do about it, but I was just frustrated with the situation because I could have done better than how I actually finished. I’m trying to definitely play every day before sectionals and make sure I’m hydrated and do everything I can to do my best.”
Ballard said Bolin likely would have made it to districts last year without that setback and he “has a good chance” at getting through this time. Bolin noted the key will be staying consistent on his serve, which has greatly improved the past two years but still switches on and off sometimes in matches.
“I’m fairly confident, but I’ll definitely still be nervous at sectionals just not having played anyone yet that I’ll be playing and not knowing what to expect,” he said. “Hopefully I can just have fun with it being my last one, and hopefully I can do well enough to advance.”