It is full of numbers ranging from 1977 to 2016. Twenty six numbers fill the sign marking every year the Truckers have won the Northern Ohio League championship. They are hoping to hang one more before the NOL disbands after the season.
“It would be beautiful to have to get another sign,” Norwalk coach Chris Higgins said.
The Truckers are well on their way thanks to a perfect 6-0 conference record so far this season. The Truckers have swept every NOL opponent 5-0 midway through the season. It looks like 2017 is about to head up on the NOL championship sign by the end of spring.
But the 2017 season has been a bit different. As the Truckers continue to dominate opponents, besides the wins, one thing keeps happening; the Truckers keep growing closer as a team, like a family.
The Truckers field five seniors on their 7-man varsity squad. Andrew Herner is the team’s first singles player while Jacob Coe plays second singles and Evan Hohman handles the third singles spot on a regular basis. Damon Mohan leads the first doubles team with sophomore Austin Brown and Max Berry leads second doubles with Andrew Riley.
The five seniors started playing tennis together way back in middle school and have stuck together since, like a family.
“The biggest thing that contributes to our success is every member of this team is friends with everyone else,” Mohan said. “It is so much fun. We compete with each other to see who can get done first.”
Thats right, they even have a sort of sibling rivalry going on with who can beat their opponents faster. It has led them to a nice 9-2 record on the season, so it is working.
“We know this is our last chance and we are playing with a sense urgency,” Herner said. “We just want to make the best of it.”
“We started out in eighth grade playing as youngsters and just sticking together ever since,” Hohman said. “Andrew and I have played together for longer than I can remember then Jacob and Max joined in and we built something special that is really coming to a head this year.”
Coe admits if the Truckers want to continue with their dominance in 2017, it has to be family first.
“We play together all of the time, even in the offseason so it is like a family,” Coe said. “We have stuck together since eighth grade. We have so much fun and we are very comfortable with each other. We just have to keep focus and continue to do what we set out to do since we first started playing the sport.”
Berry missed the last two tennis seasons to focus on golf, and each of those two springs, no matter how much time he spent on the golf course, he felt something was missing.
“I enjoy tennis, but the past couple of years, I just wanted to get my golf game on track,” Berry said. “But I missed it like crazy. These guys are so much fun to be around and I had to come back. It is just such a great atmosphere. We all pick each other up. Our relationships do not end when we step off of the tennis courts. We just love to be around each other.”
But the family feel doesn’t just stop with the players. Higgins along with assistant coaches Ray Scheid and Dave Rehnborg have spent more time together than any coaches in any other program. Higgins played for Scheid when he was in high school at Norwalk and Scheid played for Rehnborg when he was head coach. But Higgins admits Rehnborg has to be the father of Norwalk tennis.
“Even before I was born, coach (Dave) Rehnborg has been involved in the program in one way of another,” Higgins said. “Our coaching staff is made out of three head coaches. How many teams can say that?”
Norwalk captured its first NOL title in 1977 under Rehnborg. The program went on to win seven consecutive NOL titles from 1985-1991, 13 in 14 years from 1994-2007 and five more in seven years from 2010-2016 giving it a grand total of 26 league championships and the title of a dynasty.
“The dominance in the NOL over the years is all contributed to the depth of our teams,” Higgins said. “To win a match, it takes seven varsity players. A lot of times, we have had a strong sixth and seventh player when most schools do not field that many.
“With the depth of the team year in and year out, it is incredibly hard to just make varsity. I know a step in my own career here at Norwalk was just making varsity as a senior. That was a huge deal to me and contribute to an official win. All of us care about the program because we came from the program.”
Through the years, Higgins and his staff have always preached one thing — the program. Every player that put on a Norwalk polo and picked up a tennis racket has put the program first with every decision made on and off the court. All 23 state qualifying player in the history of Norwalk tennis bought in to family first and that family is their teammates. But the Norwalk program would be nothing without hard work and Higgins recognizes that.
“Not every coach can say that all of his hard work that he puts in is matched by the players hard work,” Higgins said. “It allows me to feel the freedom to move people around if needed. They put in the time and that is what makes all of the difference. A coach is just supposed to be here for support, but when you have players that put in the time, it is an awesome thing.”
So the 2017 Truckers geared up for a final run at an NOL title with the idea of leaving a lasting mark on a historic program. The Truckers already own a commanding lead in the NOL race thanks to hard work and dedication to the program and the family.
“We knew that this was going to be our year because of the senior group we have,” Higgins said. “Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of other teams lost some very good players last year. Teams overturn from time to time, but we have been able to reload every year and that is a huge luxury.”
Mohan knows it is also a huge luxury to have three amazing tennis minds at his disposal.
“We just work very hard during practice,” Mohan said. “Whatever coach tells us to change or tweak, we listen to him. It helps to have a lot of varsity experience coming back from last season. I was shaky last season as my first time playing varsity, but I am ready to end my career on a high note. I am not afraid to take a shot when I need to.”
The Truckers host Columbian on Thursday in one of the biggest NOL matches of the season. Norwalk beat the Tornados 5-0 the first time around and with home court advantage, the Truckers are looking to build a commanding lead in the NOL with hopes of bringing home another title, for the family.