On a cold, December day on Ohio State’s campus, Hunter Callahan warmed up for tennis practice just like it was any other day. It seemed regular at the time, but that one practice may have defined Callahan’s spring season.
It seemed like a regular day to anyone else, but that one practice may have defined Callahan’s spring season.
“The fall season had ended, and our coach put me against our number one guy during practice,” Callahan said. “He said, ‘just play a match against him, and see how you do.’ I lost the first set, 6-1, and I just told myself to go for it and see what happens. I beat him, 6-4, in the second set. Everything just clicked – it showed me I could compete at that high level.”
From that moment on, Callahan tore through the competition, evolving into a consistent and dependable player for the Buckeyes even as a freshman. Through the end of the regular season, the former Middle States junior held a 9-0 record, propelling Ohio State to a No. 3 national ranking and the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Callahan, who spent a few years of his youth in Thailand, began playing tennis at the age of 7, when his father introduced him to the sport as an option other than football. He picked it up quickly and began organized competition just a few years later. Callahan began playing local Middle States tournaments and rose in the ranks quickly. After growing to a towering 6-foot-4, he was suddenly a top junior player in Pennsylvania. He had plenty of options for college choices, but fell in love with Ohio State and the program’s potential.
Over the past year, things changed quickly for Callahan. Like many top junior players, his schooling was done online, so he made a quick adjustment to the classes at Ohio State. On the court and in the training room, things picked up pace, as well.
“As a junior, I knew I wanted to be a serious player,” he said. “My coach, Marco Nartizi, knew that too. He helped me out so much as a younger player, and that translates to what I’m doing now.”
As for his improvements at the collegiate level, Callahan credits the strength and conditioning program for much of his improvement, but couldn’t discredit the impact that offseason practices had on his ability to play at a high level during the season. The aggressive, competitive spirit of college tennis surprised him at first, and the difficulty and intensity of the Ohio State practices got him prepared for the spring.
“Coming from juniors, you don’t realize the competitive level that you’re facing each day,” Callahan said. “It really makes you compete harder in practice. Seeing the guys on the team go so hard each day – it taught me that if I didn’t show that same level, I’d have no chance of playing. It was a surprise, but a very good surprise.”
Aside from the hard individual work and help from coaches, Callahan also had the bonus of playing with two of the nation’s top collegiate players in Blaz Rola and Chase Buchanan – both of whom were ranked in the nation’s top 10 throughout the season. In addition, the Buckeyes had seven players on the roster with national rankings.
He’s now keeping his eyes and ears open every day, working hard to reach his potential and eventually hoping to make it as a pro player after college.
“I knew the level of players in this program, and I learn from them every day,” he said. “I’ve learned that tennis is sometimes about fighting, working hard and controlling the ball. Everyone is good, but you need to find a way to separate yourself. Every day, that’s what I’m looking to do.”