Shady Side Academy, Beaver tandems capture WPIAL doubles tennis titles

Thursday, October 4, 2018 | 6:32 PM

Every serve became more important.

Every shot back was more intense.

And in a showdown that could have gone either way, Shady Side Academy’s Aya Youssef ripped a final shot for match point, turned around and jumped into Elle Santora’s arms.

Their WPIAL Class 3A doubles championship win had not sunk in immediately following the match, one that came down to a combination of skill and luck, according to Santora and Youssef, a team that was formed two weeks ago.

“This isn’t something that was a given, and we’re as shocked as anyone else,” Santora said. “There are so many good teams here. In WPIAL it’s the best of the best, and we’re just one team in a whole pool of great players from schools like Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon, Fox Chapel, Mars and Latrobe. You just don’t know how each match will go.”

The best friends from Shady Side Academy won 7-5 and 6-4 against Mars’ Amelia Haley and Emily Ivory. The competitive match seemed to have heart-stopping moments within every point as each team could not find a way to sustain momentum for long stretches.

“They were hitting down-the-line shots at me and being aggressive at the net, so that was a challenge,” Youssef said. “I don’t think I ever felt comfortable. That match was very dynamic and very tight, and I think today was the best we’ve played together.”

Santora’s aggressiveness at the net and Youssef’s consistency at the backline made it difficult for Mars to counter at times. Ivory’s skilled hands near the net and Haley’s hard shots from the backline also tested the SSA duo.

“Emily is the ying to my yang and has great hands at the net,” Haley said. “She’s really, really calm, and sometimes I’m too aggressive, so we balance each other out.”

Shady Side Academy coach Jeff Miller called Santora and Youssef two of the top 20 players in Class 3A, which might be why a team that has played together for two weeks could win gold medals.

The chemistry was always there for Santora and Youssef to have a deep run in the WPIAL tournament, something they told Miller in the preseason.

“I said ‘definitely probably,’ ” Miller said. “I didn’t want to say yes if another player fit in better somehow. I knew they would be first or second in section and be difficult to beat here.”

Class 2A

Beaver senior Devyn Campbell unwrapped a gold medal, the one that escaped her until a senior campaign in the WPIAL Class 2A doubles championship, and put it around her neck.

Anna Blum, Campbell’s third teammate in four years at the tournament, stood a few feet away and exhaled with a gold medal in her hands. It was her first gold medal after earning a silver in basketball.

“This feels really good,” Campbell said. “I’ve never had a gold medal for doubles before, so first time on my last shot.”

The pairing of Campbell and Blum beat Greensburg Salem’s Abby Jo Stull and Kasey Storkel, 6-1, 6-4, to win the title.

“(Campbell and Blum) were very repetitive in hitting their shots hard,” Stull said. “They kept it up with very solid shots, and they weren’t really weak at all. They were always ready for anything.”

Greensburg Salem’s serves and a change in strategy in the second set caused some issues for Campbell and Blum.

“They started playing back, and we haven’t played anyone who does that,” Campbell said. “That threw us off at first, and we started losing games. That got us a little nervous. We realized they were going to stay back, so we needed to relax, hit balls shorter to bring them up to the net and more off balance and tried to notice their weaknesses.”

Beaver also resorted to the formula that enabled them to earn a spot in the title match.

“Devyn was amazing,” Blum said. “She would hit the winners, and I would just be consistent with getting it in and keeping everything in play, so this feels great as a sophomore, knowing that I have more years left but also knowing that I’ll always have this gold medal.”

Stull and Storkel, who have played together for three years, aren’t done yet with the state tournament still on their schedule.

“We’ve bonded over the last three years and have had a good time playing together and working off of each other,” Storkel said. “We play hard together.”

In the consolation matches, Sewickley Academy’s Victoria Keller and Alina Mattson defeated Blackhawk’s Julianna Begley and Chloe Stein, 7-6 (10-8), 6-1, in Class AA, and Latrobe’s Jenna Bell and Addison Kemerer beat Mt. Lebanon’s Camilla Buch and Lauren Masteller, 6-4, 6-2, in Class AAA. The winning tandems advanced to the PIAA tournament.

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.

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