Valley boys tennis team prepared for playoff rematch with South Park
By: William Whalen
Sunday, April 22, 2018 | 11:45 PM
A few minutes after the Valley boys tennis team's opening-round win over No. 12 Mt. Pleasant in last Friday's WPIAL Class AA team playoffs, Vikings coach Rachael Link pulled got a text message from the WPIAL.
The text message confirmed what Link knew all along: If her Vikings were going to make a deep run through the Class AA bracket, they were going to have to go through South Park.
“After we celebrated our seniors and made some announcements, I pulled out my phone and knew at that point and time that the celebration was going to be short and we had to prepare for the quarterfinals,” Link said. “When that field gets cut in half, and you see your (team's) name as one of the final eight teams left in the bracket, it's humbling, and its shows how hard work pays off.”
Valley (11-1), the No. 5 seed in Class AA, will travel to No. 4 South Park on Monday for what will be a quarterfinals rematch from last season. The Eagles advanced with a 5-0 win over Neshannock.
It's a rematch a year in the making. The Vikings lost to the Eagles, 3-1, last season in a match that was cut short by weather. But while the loss stung for Link and her Vikings, it also forced Link to take a long look at how she was preparing her players.
“We needed tested and (we) needed pushed,” Link said. “We needed to be more dominant up against the net in doubles. And, No. 2, I wanted to play against more competitive teams.”
Link went out and scheduled Section 2-AA heavyweight and Class AA No. 3 seed Blackhawk. Valley beat the Cougars, 3-2, earlier in the season. Link even added Class AAA schools such as Plum. Once again, Valley came away with a 3-2 win.
“Last season's loss is definitely a driving force, especially since we went undefeated in section,” said senior Giovanni Vigilante, who plays No. 1 doubles with Joseph Guzzo. “We've been using that as fuel to do better.”
After losing in three sets to Mt. Pleasant (1-6, 6-4, 6-4), Vigilante and Guzzo, a junior, are intent on picking up a win to take some of the pressure off their singles teams. The duo will take to the court Monday with a 9-3 record.
“I wasn't too happy with how things turned out (against Mt. Pleasant),” Vigilante said. “Having one and hopefully two victories will put us in a better situation to win the match.”
Valley failed to capture a win in doubles competition against Mt. Pleasant as No. 2 doubles Dominic Bayne, a senior, and sophomore Aiden Johnson lost in three sets: 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Nobody's confidence is soaring higher than No. 1 singles player Alex Ward. The senior played No. 3 singles in last season's quarterfinal loss to South Park, and it was his match that got cut short by the weather.
“I don't feel like this team is going to lose anytime soon,” Ward said.
Ward swept (6-3, 6-3) Mt. Pleasant's Justin Chovanec as Valley buzzed through singles competition with three straight-set wins to take the lead. Junior Michael Saliba downed Ben Bailey, 6-4, 6-0, and sophomore Michael Odrey delivered a 6-2, 6-4 win over Brad Tait.
“I feel like we're ready to go to battle,” Ward said.
Link agreed because Valley has been battling all season long. Of the eight remaining teams in the Class AA bracket, three of them Valley, Knoch and Indiana, hail from Section 3-AA.
“You're not going to outrun or outhustle my team,” Link said. “(South Park) has all of their starters returning, but my guys play on pure adrelaline.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.