Gateway boys tennis sets course on WPIAL title defense

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Sunday, March 31, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Six of seven starters returned from last year’s Gateway boys tennis team which captured the program’s first WPIAL title since 1988 and made it all the way to the PIAA Class 3A semifinals.

Team members also fared well at the WPIAL and state singles tournaments.

Despite all of the laurels earned in 2023, the Gators are not satisfied and know there is more to be done over the next two months.

“We are all super motivated. We want that state title, and I know we have the team to do it,” said junior Zidaan Hassan, Gateway’s No. 2 singles player.

“Obviously, we want to defend the WPIAL title. We know a lot of teams will be coming for us, but we are confident. We’re doing really well so far in our overall and section matches. We just have to remain focused and continue doing what we’ve been doing.”

Hassan, fellow junior Adam Memije and sophomore Logan Memije swept the three singles matches in last year’s WPIAL Class 3A team championships match against North Allegheny.

The Tigers won both doubles matches to set the 3-2 final.

The No. 3-seeded Gators also defeated Bethel Park, Peters Township and Fox Chapel along the way.

Gateway’s run at the PIAA tournament ended with a 3-0 loss to Conestoga in the semifinal round in Hershey.

Hassan suffered a loss in his match against Conestoga to finish 14-1 in 2023 team matches. With wins in both doubles matches, Conestoga clinched the win, and the Memije brothers’ matches were not completed.

Both Adam and Logan Memije finished 2023 with 14-0 records in team matches.

“Last season was so fun, and after 35 years of not winning a WPIAL title, it was great that we were able to do it,” Adam Memije said.

“It was a great feeling to bring that title to the school. It helped create so much excitement. Now, we have high hopes for getting that state title. It won’t be easy, but we’re ready to go after it.”

Gold medals also came to Adam Memije and Hassan who captured the WPIAL Class 3A doubles crown. They defeated the Allderdice duo of seniors Deniz Finkel and Ian Kuchera in the finals. The Gators duo then went on to make the semifinals at states and finish third.

In addition to the three singles returnees, senior Matthew Bandos, sophomore Troy Boden and senior Blake Marsh return to the starting lineup.

Bandos teamed with graduate Zach Mesanko at No. 1 doubles through the state tournament, and Marsh and Boden were together at No. 2 doubles.

Gateway coach Matt Stockunas said the doubles teams this season still are taking shape with senior Zane Almoukamal now in the mix.

“The doubles guys met during the summer and conditioned and hit a lot,” Stockunas said.

“We also hit in the fall and then hit and conditioned from the last week in January. They have all really improved their games. We’ve been rotating Zane in and have been looking for that right combination for both doubles teams.

“With the WPIAL, we’re allowed to rank our first four players. With the fourth player, he has to play first doubles all season. Five, six and seven in doubles, we can mix them in any way we want until the WPIAL team playoffs. We have challenge matches that give us a good look at how we can put everything together.”

Stockunas said sophomores Abuzar Hameez and Wasay Syed also have done a nice job playing doubles together in exhibition and challenge matches.

“They are really pushing that second doubles,” he said.

Gateway edged rival Franklin Regional, 3-2, March 28 in a match that is expected to go a long way in determining the Section 1-3A title. The Gators improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the section.

Adam Memije won in straight sets at No. 1 singles, and Logan Memije did the same at No. 3 singles.

Hassan needed three sets to defeat Colin Stalker. The second set went to a tiebreaker where Hassan hoped to finish off the match.

But Stalker won the tiebreaker, 7-3, to tie the match and send it to a deciding third set.

Bandos and Boden lost a close two-set match at No. 1 doubles. The first set went to a tiebreaker.

Marsh and Almoukamal fell in straight sets at No. 2 doubles.

“It’s always cool to play Franklin Regional because we know them well and we know they have some really talented players,” Hassan said.

“They’ve been so good forever. We know we are going to get their best games. We might also see them again in the WPIAL playoffs.”

The Section 1 singles tournament at Franklin Regional was to begin Wednesday and is slated to conclude Thursday. Hassan and Adam Memije are representing Gateway at the tournament.

They faced each other in last year’s section finals with Memije defeating Hassan to earn the No. 1 seed for the WPIAL championships.

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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