Valley tennis rebounds after early section loss
By: William Whalen
Tuesday, April 10, 2018 | 7:18 PM
The sun was beginning to set, the rackets were put away and the Indiana boys tennis team long ago had hopped its bus back to campus following Valley's season-opening loss to the Section 3-AA rival Little Indians.
It was quiet around the Valley tennis courts. Heads weren't hanging, but it was clear the sting from a 4-1 loss to Indiana had not set in yet.
Vikings coach Rachael Link called her Vikings together on court No. 1. Link, who has delivered many fiery speeches in the past, skipped that and went straight into giving her Vikings a reality check.
“I looked at every single one of our players and said, ‘Here's the deal, we have to be perfect the rest of the way through section play,' ” Link said. “I was very proud of how they played. It was an intense match. Our reflection afterwards was about what our long-term goals are, which is, No. 1, make the WPIAL playoffs, and, (No. 2), not lose another section match.”
Sophomore Michael Odrey got the message. Odrey was the Vikings' lone winner at No. 3 singles. He said if the teams were to meet again the postseason, Indiana would be facing an entirely different Valley team.
“It was obviously devastating to lose to Indiana,” said Odrey, who holds a 3-0 record this season. “Our mentality is that we're going to keep it high now. We always think that we're going to win, and coach Link is always trying to make us confident, and she is a very motivating coach to us.”
Since the loss, Valley (6-1) has rebounded to win its next four section matches over rivals Knoch, Springdale, Vincentian Academy and St. Joseph.
“We feel 10 times more confident than we did last year,” Odrey said.
With the WPIAL's nine-team “super-sections,” there are no second chances. Teams don't get to play one another at home and on the road anymore. Each match has postseason implications.
If there's one thing Valley has learned through the years, getting to the postseason is one thing, but putting together a quality regular-season resume dictates the seeding in the WPIAL Class AA postseason bracket. A bad seed can lead to a quick exit from the postseason.
Link made one adjustment following the Indiana loss, reshuffling her doubles teams.
Originally, Link split up her veteran doubles players in senior Giovanni Vigilante and junior Joseph Guzzo. She paired them with two first-timers: sophomore Aiden Johnson and senior Dominic Bayne. After both duos lost against Indiana, Link put Guzzo and Vigilante back together and paired Bayne and Johnson.
Johnson was a pickup from the Vikings baseball team, and Bayne decided to give tennis a shot. Link said the first-year players' transition has been seamless. They picked up wins against Riverview and Knoch.
“When I'm constructing my doubles teams, I want to pay attention to where my strengths are,” Link said. “Watching (the first-timers) learn the intricacies of the game rapidly, and they are so fast and are all-out hustle. Every time they swing the racket, they understand the importance of angles and ball placement.”
Link and the Vikings seem to be on solid ground in the three singles spots. Odrey is holding his ground at No. 3, junior Michael Saliba took over at No. 2 and senior Alex Ward moved from No. 3 last season and into the No. 1 spot. Link said Ward has matured in his role as the Vikings' top singles player.
“It was the strengthening of his patience on the court,” Link said. “Alex is a cerebral player. His greatest strength this year is that he can immediately fix a mistake out on the court.”
Teams are different from season to season. Last season, Valley was in the driver's seat after beating Indiana on the road to start the season but went on to drop a match late in the season before losing to South Park in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
The Vikings will look to their new lineup for a better finish this season.
“We've all evolved since the beginning of the season,” Odrey said.
William Whalen is a freelance writer.