Fox Chapel boys tennis sets sights on 4th straight WPIAL title
Wednesday, May 1, 2019 | 5:35 PM
Fox Chapel’s senior class proved over the last three years it belonged in a different class than their Class AAA competitors. And with three WPIAL championships in hand, the Foxes can finish up a clean sweep.
The top-seeded Foxes (12-0) began the WPIAL Class AAA tournament Wednesday against Latrobe with a chance to join the ranks of some of the top tennis dynasties.
WPIAL history includes many title runs, but Fox Chapel would become the third Class AAA team to win four consecutive titles since the league split into two classifications in 1993. Upper St. Clair accomplished the first two, from 1995-98 and 2004-07.
But the Foxes have loftier goals. They finished second at the PIAA championships in 2016 and made it to Hershey the past two years but still are seeking the program’s first title.
“Winning is pretty much what motivates me the most, and I’d probably say the same for my teammates,” senior Robby Shymansky said earlier this season. “Especially coming up short. You know how hard it is to get there, and you want to go back and rectify it.”
Fox Chapel knows what it takes, as it returned five of seven starters this season: seniors Shymansky and Jared Nord at first and second singles, junior Milo Barron at third doubles, and the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Jay Kashyap and Brandon Wei, who this week claimed third at the WPIAL doubles tournament.
The new starters are at No. 2 doubles, with senior Shan Hassan and junior Clay Quackensbush.
“They were with us, traveled with us last year and all those types of things,” coach Alex Slezak said. “They’ve been groomed for the role to step in and fill those spaces. We’ve been looking good as a team all around.”
Fox Chapel used players in different spots throughout the season, giving them experience that could prove valuable. The WPIAL final is May 8.
Valley established its program into a perennial playoff contender, but reaching the WPIAL Class AA postseason for the sixth time in seven years required a strong team effort.
The Vikings (10-1), who finished second in Section 3-AA behind last season’s WPIAL runner-up, Indiana, lost top singles player Alex Ward and doubles starter Giovanni Vigilante from last year’s team, which reached the WPIAL quarterfinals before bowing out against South Park.
But junior Michael Odrey moved up from the second singles and had a breakout season, finishing third at the WPIAL singles tournament and losing just one match in section play.
“Michael Odrey has blossomed exponentially,” coach Rachael Link said. “To be a bronze-medal winner in singles, that’s a feat that’s a tribute to his hard work. … He becomes a priceless weapon for us.
“What that does is that motivates the rest of the guys. We always want everybody to step up, and with Mike pulling up at No. 1, everybody then steps up their game on the rest of the ladder. And that’s where we’re seeing our success as a team.”
Valley surrounded Odrey with a strong team: Michael Saliba, whom Link called “the scrappiest player you’re ever going to meet,” at No. 2 singles, followed by the “clutch” Joseph Guzzo at No. 3 singles.
Sam Barca and Aiden Johnson went undefeated at No. 1 doubles during section play, and new starters Dom Greco and Marco Vigilante won clutch matches at No. 2 doubles, Link said.
Saliba and Johnson recently won the Section 3-AA doubles title playing together and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals, while Guzzo and Barca qualified for the WPIAL doubles tournament.
Link said playing a team the caliber of Indiana during section play helped prepare Valley for the rigors of the WPIAL tournament, which begins Thursday against Carlynton. The Vikings advanced to at least the WPIAL quarterfinals in five of the last six years and reached the semifinals and PIAA tournament in 2014.
“If you want to make any type of run in the playoffs, you have to be solid on all five courts,” Link said. “At 1, 2 and 3 singles, we’re a tough team to beat. You have to be solid to contend with us.”
Knoch, which two seasons ago ended a postseason drought of more than 10 years, made it back to the playoffs for the second time in three years. The Knights visit second-seeded Quaker Valley in the first round Thursday.
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, [email protected] or via Twitter .