Senior Spotlight: Tennis phenom hoped to make impact in lone season at Greensburg Salem

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Friday, May 22, 2020 | 1:06 PM


Editor’s note: Each day, Trib HSSN will spotlight WPIAL spring athletes whose senior years were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Loren Byers hopes to get on the court for a couple of high-profile tennis tournaments this summer before beginning his studies and joining the men’s team at Penn State.

One of those tournaments is the USTA Boys’ 18U national championships in August in Kalamazoo, Mich., an event where Byers fared well last year with four victories against top-level competition.

“I hope they don’t cancel it because it’s one of the top tournaments in the country,” said Byers, who built his reputation and ranking at such events the past several years.

With his college decision behind him — he committed verbally to Penn State last September — Byers, who has attended a cyber school since seventh grade, also committed to playing his first and only high school season this spring with his home school district, Greensburg Salem.

“I was able to make my own schedule,” Byers said of his online schooling. “It allowed me more flexibility to do both school and travel for tennis. I normally put five or six hours on the court some days, and it would be very hard if I was in traditional school getting out at 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon.”

Byers, an instant favorite for WPIAL Class AA gold, looked forward to facing the top players in the WPIAL and beyond and noted the great respect for those such as Thomas Jefferson senior Yash Maheshwari and Indiana senior Zach Palko.

Maheshwari defeated Palko in last year’s WPIAL Class AA singles championship.

Byers’ excitement and optimism extended to the team, which had hoped to make waves with a core group of multi-year starters in seniors Jack Maruca, Ryan Nalevanko, Chase Clemence and Mike Ruggieri.

But Byers said he has remained positive through the past couple of months and recently has continued training at the Rashid Hassan Elite Tennis Academy.

“Rashid has really helped transform my game since I first went there about three and a half years ago,” Byers said.

What is the genesis for your success in tennis?

My dad (Alex) put a racket in my hand when I was 6, and we started hitting the ball around. He saw something in me. He took me out to the tennis courts, and I started getting lessons. Then I started tournaments when I was 8. I just continued to train and play, and I’ve progressed the way that I have.

What did you like most about traveling to play in national tournaments?

I’ve been able to experience a mix of everything. I’ve visited a lot of amazing places, met new friends I will have for the rest of my life, and the tournaments against some of the best players from around the country have been pretty fun and rewarding.

Do you have any regrets not playing high school tennis before your senior year?

No, because I wanted to build my national ranking and do my best in national tournaments. That helped me during the college recruiting process. Once I got that process done, I was able to relax a little more and have fun with my friends on the high school team.

What did you like most about the team tennis aspect from the couple of weeks in March you spent with your Greensburg Salem teammates?

It was a blast in the practices and the couple of matches that we played. The bus rides and just talking and hanging out with all the boys, the camaraderie was so much fun. I hadn’t had that experience since I was younger playing basketball as a team sport. It was nice to have that again, for sure.

How was the team progressing? Do you feel Greensburg Salem was going to be a factor in Section 1-AA and beyond?

I think we could’ve done pretty well. We won both of our matches (Kiski Area and Hempfield) before everything got canceled. Everyone’s individual games were getting better, and it made the team as a whole strong. I would’ve liked to have seen what we could’ve done in the WPIAL playoffs.

What made Penn State a great all-around fit for you?

The tennis team, no doubt, plays at a high level, and the academic opportunities are great. I want to go into their business program. I had some other offers, from Alabama, and I was looking at Miami (Fla.) and Kentucky, and I had an offer from Michigan State. Those other schools are great, and the coaches run quality programs but a main deciding factor was being able to stay close to home.

Do you feel college tennis is like an extension of junior tennis?

I know plenty of kids I’ve played at junior tournaments who are going to some high-level Division I schools, so I am sure I will see them at some point along the way. That will be fun.

Is there a tennis pro who you look up to or style your game after?

I have great respect for every top tennis player in the world because of all the hard work it takes to become as good and successful as they are. But specifically, I would say Rafael Nadal. His will to win and work ethic is like no other.

Do you find yourself getting compared to a particular pro player?

A lot of people say I play like Roger Federer. He takes the ball early, plays aggressively and likes to come in (to the net). I can grind from far back for long rallies, but I am more of an aggressive player. If I can get the point done earlier, that’s what I would prefer.

What is one of your best overall memories as a sports fan?

Honestly, as a New Orleans Saints fan, them winning the Super Bowl (2010 over the Indianapolis Colts) was great, but I was really young.

Another great memory is LeBron James, when he was in Miami, hitting that shot with 30 seconds left in Game 7 (of 2013 NBA Finals) to beat the Spurs. That was a crazy moment. The Steelers beating the Cardinals in the Super Bowl with the Santonio Holmes toe-tap was also a good one.

Have you had the chance to play in any tournaments near New Orleans?

I’ve played in Louisiana (Shreveport) but not in New Orleans. I was hoping to maybe go over and visit New Orleans from the tournament, but I was a part of a team with others from our section of the country, so I didn’t have the chance to break away.

If you were asked to give a speech at a commencement ceremony, what advice would you give?

For sure, I would want them to follow their dreams and never give up on them. If you work hard, it will all pay off in the long run. I’ve always had the dream of playing pro tennis, and that’s still my goal to this day. I’ve achieved the goal of playing D-I tennis, and after college, I want to pursue a pro career.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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