Led by veteran doubles team, Shaler boys tennis ends long playoff drought

Sunday, April 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Nolan Le knows he doesn’t have to wait for Shaler coach Brian Duermeyer to circle back to his doubles match for advice. Le can lean on partner Ethan Opiela to point him back in the right direction.

“I always start slow and we drop a few games,” Le said. “Ethan tells me what I need to do. With coaching having to go to five other matches, Ethan can help me out. His advice helps us get through, and that’s when we get the ball rolling.”

Le and Opiela, both seniors, have served as anchors both in team and individual competitions. Shaler, which is 5-5 overall and 3-3 in section play, qualified for the WPIAL Class 3A team playoffs for the first time in the seven years since Duermeyer took over.

Le and Opiela also advanced to the second round of the Section 3 Tournament. They beat a team from Woodland Hills in the first round before dropping a match to Allderdice’s top team.

“They are a dynamic doubles team,” Duermeyer said. “They only lost to Shady Side Academy and Fox Chapel.”

Making the decision to play tennis in high school was something Le and Opeila both came to differently.

Opeila, who is 6-feet tall and will play soccer at Seton Hill next season, had never touched a racket until he was in ninth grade. Once he got into the program, Opeila enjoyed the people on the team and decided to stick around.

He was familiar with Le after they played middle school soccer together. They were able to quickly develop chemistry.

“He has a strong backhand and serve,” Opeila said about Le. “His baseline play is way better than mine. He’ll hit them over, and it will be a nice hit that will cause the opponent to make a mistake. That’s when I finish the point at the net.”

Le grew up playing tennis with his family. Le’s dad played at Winona (Minn.) State University.

After trying other sports, like volleyball and soccer, Le decided to focus on playing tennis because he enjoyed the individual aspect to it.

“I like how if I wanted to get practice or reps in, I would only need one person to help,” Le said. “With volleyball, you have to wait until someone sets up a net and would need at least four other people. With tennis, it’s just one-on-one or two-on-two. It’s about you. There aren’t a lot of teammates to blame things on.”

When Le was training for this season, he spent most of that time perfecting his serve. What’s nice about practicing a serve is that you don’t necessarily need someone there to return it.

“The consistency on the first serve is the biggest thing,” Le said. “I would go to Hampton or Shaler courts just to serve. I was always serving. With my second serve, I try to hit it about 70% as fast, but I put more side spin on it.”

After several years of falling a match short of the team playoffs, the Titans were able to qualify by finishing in fourth place in Section 3 after beating Central Catholic, 3-2.

Opiela is looking forward to having another match with Le against top competition.

“I’m looking forward to trying to advance to the next round,” Opeila said. “Ultimately, have a little bit of fun while we’re in playoffs. Making the playoffs is a big accomplishment in any sport. Being part of a team that hasn’t made playoffs in years is a huge accomplishment.”


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