Valley tennis duo hopes to extend historic run at states
By: William Whalen
Friday, May 25, 2018 | 12:33 AM
Success doesn't happen overnight, but realizing potential can happen in a flash.
It was the first Monday in May when the Valley boys tennis doubles duo of senior Alex Ward and sophomore Mike Odrey took to the Vikings' green asphalt courts and found themselves in a heated battle against a tandem from Indiana.
Having lost the first set of a best-of-three match, the season could have gone either way at that moment.
“I turned to Mike and said, ‘We can't lose this,' ” Ward said. “We turned it up to another gear, and we won that game. That, right there, is when I knew it.”
Ward didn't know just how far “it” would go.
If the folks at Valley can't remember seeing a boys tennis duo such as Ward and Odrey before, it's because they haven't. There is no record of a Vikings boys doubles tandem making the 213-mile trip from the side parking lot near the Valley tennis courts to the front doors of the Hershey Racquet Club to compete in the PIAA Class AA tennis championships — until now.
Ward and Odrey, the WPIAL third-place finishers, will open PIAA Class AA first round-play Friday against Scranton Prep's Jacob Hebeeb and Rhys Kelly, the District 2 champs.
“It feels great knowing that coach (Rachael) Link had made it to states for teams and singles but not doubles,” Odrey said. “It makes me happy to know that we're going in doubles.”
Odrey and Ward earned a 6-1, 7-5 win over South Park's Devin Stolar and Logan Mannheimer in the WPIAL Class AA third-place match to qualify for states. The win was made even sweeter by the fact South Park ended Valley's season the past two years by knocking the Vikings out of the WPIAL Class AA team playoff bracket.
“We were flipping out when we won,” Odrey said. “I'm not lying, Alex was crying a little bit, and Ms. Link had some moisture coming out (of her eyes), too.”
The win was emotional all around. Ward, the balanced and well-spoken upperclassman with a great ground game, accomplished his goal of having a WPIAL medal placed around his neck.
“My biggest dreams were to get a WPIAL medal in high school because it's something that I can hold onto forever,” Ward said. “I was hugging my coach, hugging my partner and my family came. It was really fun and something that I'll never forget.”
For Odrey, the savvy underclassmen with a wide smile and top-notch net game, the win over the South Park duo clinched his goal of making it to states.
“I honestly had no doubt, and I knew that we were just going to keep going, going and going,” Odrey said. “I knew we were going to go. It was such an accomplishment.”
Link planted the seed to a potential Ward/Odrey doubles duo in early spring. She had a feeling their styles and skills matched up well. Link saw what everybody else saw in that section doubles match against Indiana.
“(Against) Indiana was the first time where I sort of took a step back and said the WPIAL doubles tournament is going to be really interesting,” said Link. “Michael and Alex are two of the best natural athletes that I've ever coached. They're fierce competitors. What makes them dynamic is that they want to win, and they're going to work to win.”
While each player's goals led them to Hershey, there are a few differences.
Ward doesn't like chocolate. It's the opposite for Odrey, who plans to visit Hershey's Chocolate World and load up.
Ward is a three-year starter who learned the game by playing, whereas Odrey comes from a long line of tennis players, namely his father, Mike Sr., who is always there to offer up advice and answer questions.
“I think she put Mike and I together because we're similar in size, length and we have pretty good skills,” Ward said.
But no matter how things end this weekend in Hershey, Ward and Odrey will have made history.
“Alex more than anything wanted a WPIAL medal, and Mike wanted to make it to states, and the fact that they accomplished their individual goals, my heart is very full for them,” Link said. “And at the end of the day, that's the reason why I coach.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.