Chase Merkel, Joseph Veeck guide Quaker Valley boys tennis to solid season

Sunday, May 14, 2023 | 11:01 AM

There is a new award on the high school tennis scene.

It was created last fall and is called the Western Pennsylvania Boys Tennis Sportsmanship Award.

Opposing players, opposing coaches or WPIAL officials offer nominations.

The award recognizes high school students who “are consistently friendly and fair and display the characteristics of outstanding sportsmanship.”

A similar award was given for girls tennis in the fall.

“Tennis requires not only great athletic ability but also fierce determination and will,” said Quaker Valley coach Christi Hays, who is on the WPIAL tennis steering committee. “It also requires honesty, cooperation, resiliency and trust individually and with your opponent.

“So we think it is important to reward players with great talent but also players who play with great sportsmanship. I don’t think you can separate the two.”

Quaker Valley is the only school with two award recipients.

The list of honorable mention selections in 2A is a long one, consisting of QV’s Chase Merkel and Joseph Veeck, Indiana’s Kyle Zheng, Carlynton’s Wilson Choate, West Allegheny’s Andrew Dudeck, Hampton’s Vitaliy Pikalo, Montour’s Jacob Erdner, Greensburg Salem’s Sam Spigarelli, Central Valley’s Tanner Baughman, Blackhawk’s Caleb Farone and Latrobe’s August Lawrence.

Merkel and Veeck, at No. 1 and No. 3 singles, have helped lead Quaker Valley to a section championship and an 11-0 record this season. Both players are juniors.

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to be named for this sportsmanship award,” Veeck said. ”Sportsmanship is not always about playing fair and showing respect, but embodying integrity and kindness on the court.

“I always seek to conduct myself this way toward my opponent and those watching. Although I do get down on myself at times, I aim to embrace the value of sportsmanship.”

Only juniors and seniors attending a Western Pennsylvania high school in person and playing for his high school team were eligible for consideration.

“I’m thrilled that both Chase and Joe were recognized for this newly established award,” Hays said. “I think sportsmanship is such an important part of the game of tennis. At the high school level especially, everything that happens ‘inside the fence’ is up to the players to manage. They have to make their own calls, keep their own score and settle any dispute that should come up between themselves.

“So to be recognized by their peers, opponents and fellow coaches is an honor. And Chace and Joe absolutely deserve to be recognized not just for their game but for their conduct and outstanding demeanor.”

Merkel has been competing at No. 1 singles all season.

“He is the only player on our present roster who got any significant playing time from last year’s WPIAL champion team. And it was in No. 2 doubles,” Hays said. “So to step up to No. 1 singles where you are playing the best that every opponent has every week is daunting to say the least.

“But Chase really put in the time and work in the offseason and has acquitted himself extremely well. One of his strengths is definitely his serve, which is greatly improved from last year. He also has a really strong baseline game. And he can also handle himself well at the net when he decides to go in.”

Merkel, junior Matteo Casatellini and Veeck are the top three singles players for the Quakers.

Hays discussed the performance of Veeck, the Quakers’ second award recipient.

“Joe has been rock solid for us all season at No. 3 singles,” Hays said. “He also put in the time and work in the offseason. No. 3 singles is a crucial spot in high school tennis because at that spot you will face a variety of different styles of play from your opponents.

“Joe has been able to handle everything the other players have thrown at him. He is extremely consistent and can handle the ‘backboard style’ player or the ‘power’ player. And Joe is extremely focused and is very calm and collected under pressure.”

Quaker Valley rolled through Section 5-2A undefeated and was 11-0 as of May 8 with nonsection wins over Moon, South Fayette, Blackhawk and West Allegheny. The Quakers defeated Burrell, 5-0, in the first round of the WPIAL team playoffs before falling to Chartiers Valley, 3-2, in the quarterfinals.

Along with their top three singles players, the Quakers are led by juniors Nick Allan and Grant Webb at No. 1 doubles and juniors Will Watson and Brahm Gianiodis at No. 2 doubles.

“One of our greatest strengths is our depth. We really don’t drop off much at all from spots 1 to 7,” Hays said. “And we have other players waiting in the wings. Matthew Henry, Grayson Beatty, Michael Snyder, Jason Clark and Cole Yocca could be starting for most of the other teams that we face. Our practices provide great preparation our match play.”

QV was a WPIAL finalist in 2019 and won back-to-back WPIAL championships in 2021-22.

The entire starting lineup graduated in 2022.

“But the team has really embraced the challenge of carrying on the legacy and following the blueprint left by last year’s seniors,” Hays said, “many of whom come back to check on this year’s team and offer advice, encouragement and even as practice partners. Their support has been extraordinary and invaluable.”

The Western Pennsylvania Boys Tennis Sportsmanship Award inaugural winners in 3A are Central Catholic’s Anthony Arshoun, Norwin’s Nicholas Cormas and Baldwin’s David Werner.

There are four honorable mention selections in 3A consisting of Allderdice’s Ian Kurchera, Shaler’s Will Nebiolo, Penn-Trafford’s Dan Setzenfand and Baldwin’s Braden Yokopenic.

In 2A, the top award winners consist of Beaver’s Andrew Cavett, Valley’s Nicholas Bussard and Aquinas Academy’s Jackson Gillespie, who placed third in the WPIAL singles tournament this season.

Hays is on a small tennis committee along with Sewickley Academy athletic director Win Palmer and a tennis parent. The committee started this award program during the 2022 girls season.

“Sportsmanship is important in every sport but tennis is unique in that there are no referees, no lines people, no scorekeepers,” Hays said. “It is completely up to the players to act in good faith and manage the match themselves.

“We happen to think that tennis is one of the more challenging sports and one of the most enlightened. A tennis player is alone on an island, completely exposed. Standing solo or with one teammate on the court is a foreign feeling for most athletes. When a tennis player makes a mistake, it is out there for everyone to see.”

The Western Pennsylvania Tennis Sportsmanship Award was created by a nonprofit organization not affiliated with the WPIAL or PIAA.

“One challenge for anything new like this is to get traction to get more people, players and coaches to participate and nominate,” Hays said. “It is an extremely easy process. And more participation will add to the prestige of the award.

“We are hoping it will become a very coveted award every year.”


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