Valley tennis program braces for WPIAL team postseason

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Thursday, May 6, 2021 | 9:32 PM


The Valley and North Catholic boys tennis teams both were undefeated at 7-0 when they met April 23 to decide the Section 3-AA team title.

The Trojans, led by the WPIAL singles champion in Nicholas Scheller, had their sights set on a clean sweep of the section.

But the Vikings, with their mix of experience levels among their three singles players and two doubles squads, were ready to bring the title home to New Kensington.

A down-to-the-wire 3-2 victory over All-Kiski Valley rival Highlands a week earlier put them in position to win the title, and coach Rachael Link said it reminded them of the effort it was going to take to claim victory over North Catholic.

The Trojans used straight-set wins to take No. 1 and No. 2 singles, but a straight-set victory by senior Thomas Albert at No. 3 singles and three-set triumphs by the Vikings No. 1 doubles team of senior Marco Vigilante and junior Dario Wolfe and the No. 2 doubles pairing of senior Adisun Jackson and junior Nathan Clarke put Valley at the top.

“Section 3 in Class AA is absolutely a loaded section, and I have the utmost respect for the teams we competed against,” said Link, who will lead the Vikings (12-0) into the WPIAL team playoffs Tuesday as the No. 3 seed against Greensburg Central Catholic.

The top three teams from WPIALs advance to the PIAA Class AA tournament, which begins May 18.

From Section 3, North Catholic is the No. 5 seed, and Highlands and Knoch are the No. 9 and No. 13 seeds, respectively.

Quaker Valley owns the top seed, and South Park is seeded second.

All first-round matches are Tuesday.

“The caliber of our section has definitely prepared us for WPIAL playoffs,” Link said.

“For my guys to be able to battle out of section play undefeated and enter the WPIAL team tournament in our prime, it is truly outstanding based upon the story of how the fabric of our team came together.”

Valley’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, Nicholas Bussard and Dylan Gentile, are sophomores and were unable to get varsity experience in matches last year.

Gentile overcame the pressure in the close match with Highlands as he won in three sets to clinch the win after the match was tied 2-2.

“Our mantra all season has been practice like you are going to play, and their success has come from how hard they have worked,” Link said.

None of Valley’s top seven had played a section match before this year. It was a entirely different team in 2019 when Valley finished as section runner-up to eventual WPIAL champion Indiana and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals before falling to South Park.

The Vikings are at the top of the section for the first time since 2017, when they also lost to South Park in the quarterfinals.

“We are this beautiful mosaic of talent, intelligence, athletic ability, and grit,” Link said. “My boys have worked six to seven days a week as a team. After losing last season to the pandemic, we committed to not squandering one moment together.

“I am also very proud that the fabric of our team reflects the community of our district. We start three incredible players who happen to be black, representing the wonderful diversity of our district.”

Several team members, in addition to their contributions to team success, made their mark in singles and doubles competition.

Albert, who has garnered the attention of a number of Division II and III college programs, and Bussard punched their ticket to WPIAL singles after playing each other in the section consolation match. Bussard made it to the WPIAL quarterfinals.

The teams of Bussard and Gentile and Albert and Wolfe represented the Vikings at WPIAL doubles.

“It’s a pretty awesome feeling to see what we’ve been able to do with a roster where half of the players had never played tennis before,” Vigilante said. “From the start of the season, we dedicated ourselves to putting together a good team. It is a total team effort.”

Both doubles teams finished the regular-season matches undefeated.

“They anchor the team,” Link said. “I was brutally honest with them at the opening of the season and told them that our ability to thrive in our tough section and make a run in the WPIAL playoffs resided in the strength and depth of our doubles. They never faltered and embraced the challenge with passion.”

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

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