Alumni help Valley boys tennis players prepare for postseason tournaments

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Monday, May 22, 2023 | 11:06 AM


The Valley boys tennis team qualified for the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class 2A tournament and faced North Catholic on May 8 with a spot in the semifinals and a berth to states on the line.

The day before, the Vikings starting seven had the opportunity to train with some special opponents.

Coach Rachael Link organized a training session that Sunday with a full lineup that included several alums of the Vikings boys and girls tennis programs.

“I always touch base with my alumni players, and they didn’t hesitate to want to come back and play and help the team train for their semifinal match,” Link said. “The Valley Vikings tennis family never stops taking care of each other, even when they graduate. We were able to organize a match with the parents feeding the team after.

“The ambassadorship that we have with our players who graduate inspire our current players. It also teaches them that they are members of a special family deeply rooted in pride that takes care of each other. I feel the current players will want to come back and do the same after they graduate. It is a connection that is bigger than just tennis.”

Valley alumni who have come back this spring include 2022 graduates Dario Wolfe (Allegheny), Eden Richey (Pitt-Greensburg) and Nate Clarke (Washington & Jefferson); former Grove City player Michael Odrey; Waynesburg men’s tennis alum Josh Denham; and former Valley singles standout Aiden Johnson.

“With Landon Harclerode now a sophomore, this is his second year playing, and I played two years in high school,” Wolfe said. “It’s fun to see how much he improved from last year to now. He reminds me a lot of myself and the way I play. It’s great to be able to give back and be able to see the talented players in the program get better.”

Richey finished 13-5 in singles matches and 15-4 in doubles for a Pitt-Greensburg women’s team that won the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference title and played in the NCAA Tournament. Richey was named the AMCC Newcomer of the Year.

“I always like to play any chance I can get, and coach Link is always telling us to come down and play (the current team members) when we can,” Richey said. “I enjoy it. Whenever I can do my part to help the program and the players improve, that’s even better.”

Senior Nick Bussard, Valley’s No. 1 singles player, was set to be at No. 3 singles as a freshman with Odrey at No. 1 and Johnson at No. 2.

But the 2020 season was canceled as the coronavirus pandemic started to take hold.

Bussard said not having the 2020 season was frustrating for not only his start at the varsity level but for the veterans such as Odrey and Johnson not being able to close out their high school careers with singles, doubles and team opportunities.

“I really wanted to get into it and have that first season to get acclimated to what it was like playing at the high school level,” Bussard said. “It was a weird feeling because it originally was supposed to be just the two weeks, and then it was the whole season. We just couldn’t do anything about it. It would’ve been fun to play and train that whole season with Mike and Aidan and others. We were shaping up to be a really good team.

“But to have this opportunity to be on the court again with them and to play them, I am very grateful for that. They want to come down here and train with us, and that’s a special feeling. They had that same thing when they were in high school where some of the older and graduated players stayed connected with the program.”

Valley was section runner-up in 2018 and ‘19 after capturing the section title with an undefeated record in ‘17, Odrey and Johnson’s freshman year.

The 2023 Vikings continued the tradition of solid team play by finishing Section 1 undefeated after topping Kiski Area on April 20.

Bussard and Harclerode prep for state doubles

As the No. 3 seed, Bussard and Harclerode made it to the semifinals of this year’s WPIAL Class 2A doubles tournament April 25 at North Allegheny.

They lost to the Latrobe senior duo of Josh Havrilla and August Lawrence in a three-set clash that was a rematch of Bussard and Harclerode’s win to take the Section 1 title a week earlier.

Bussard and Harclerode qualified for the PIAA championships in Hershey based on making the WPIAL semifinals, but they went for third place in the consolation final at Bethel Park.

In another three-set battle, they took South Park’s freshman combination of Jonah Jasek and Steven Duing to the limit before Jasek and Duing prevailed.

Now, Bussard and Harclerode are on the cusp of testing their mettle against the rest of the state, and they will open play Friday against the District 1 champion.

Friday’s matches also will feature the quarterfinal round, with the semifinals and finals slated for Saturday.

“For Nick and Landon, it’s been a mixture of drilling and playing,” Link said. “There’s a phenomenal camaraderie within our section and within the WPIAL.”

Bussard and Harclerode traveled to Latrobe last weekend to train with Havrilla and Lawrence, and they plan to train with Jasek and Duing in Hershey on Thursday before the tournament begins.

“That is how you know you are a true competitor,” Link said. “You step on the court and compete hard, and when you step off the court, that respect remains.”

Bussard and Harclerode are the first boys doubles team from Valley to earn a berth to states since 2018 when Odrey and Alex Ward, both sophomores, finished third at the WPIAL tournament.

“It’s great to have (the former Valley players) back. It shows that they’re one of us,” Harclerode said. “It means a lot that they would want to be here and help us when they could be doing other things with their time. I played Dario a few times and Mike, too. It’s definitely a great test to face them. It only makes me and Nick better.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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