With doubles teams leading the way, Quaker Valley tennis competes with state’s best

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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Quaker Valley’s boys tennis team hit the daily double in 2024.

The Quakers had a banner season thanks in large part to the performance of their doubles players.

“In PIAA high school tennis, you only need a 60% to win,” QV coach Christi Hays said. “That would not even be a passing grade in any class. But in high school tennis, you only have to win three out of five matches to be successful. And for the last few years, Quaker Valley has found a formula that works for us and has led to success — especially this year.

“On the strength of our senior leadership, outstanding doubles teams and a freshman singles player, Quaker Valley — a small public school in Western Pennsylvania — showed it can hang with the top private school teams in the state.”

QV’s main doubles players early in the season were seniors Grant Webb, Will Watson and Brahm Gianiodis and junior Matthew Henry, along with sophomore Tanner Schultz and seniors Matteo Castellini and Jason Clark.

“With the personnel available, we decided that our best shot was to try to win both doubles (matches) and at least one singles. More would be gravy,” Hays said. “So, we put a big emphasis on putting together some doubles duos that could get the job done.

“I was so pleased to see how the boys embraced their roles. They worked so hard to hone their skills, and it paid off in spades.”

QV ended up fourth in the state this year as the only public school in the Class 2A final four.

During the regular season, WPIAL and PIAA playoffs, QV’s doubles teams amassed an incredible 31-3 record.

“They basically teed it up and handed it off to the singles players,” Hays said.

The Quakers finished as the Section 5-2A runner-up with a 13-5 overall record, then placed second at the WPIAL team tournament. As the No. 6 seed, QV defeated No. 11 Mt. Pleasant and No. 3 Winchester Thurston by 4-1 scores, edged No. 2 North Catholic, 3-2, then lost a tough 3-2 decision to top-seeded Sewickley Academy.

The Quakers’ singles players were seniors Chase Merkel and Joe Veeck at No. 1 and No. 2, with freshman William Meagher and Castellini sharing duties at No. 3.

“We were very solid in singles,” Hays said. “We were hoping Meagher would play a big role. He had been playing in a lot of USTA tournaments, so he was used to competition.”

The freshman sensation said the Quakers had an outstanding season in his first taste of varsity competition.

“Looking back on the season, it could not have gone much better aside from winning maybe one more match,” Meagher said. “And especially as the sixth seed at WPIALs, I think it was an impressive run by us.”

The Quakers placed an emphasis on winning a section championship in 2024.

“We were rolling along with wins against Montour, Moon and West Allegheny,” Hays said, “and had our sights on our matchup with Winchester Thurston for the section title. As a coach, I had a certain scenario in mind: Win both doubles then, hopefully, win third singles with Meagher because Merkel and Veeck had tough matchups.

“When Meagher went down, I was dealing with the possibility of a loss. Merkel caught fire and came within two points of a victory, but it was not to be.”

That loss to the Bears prompted a team meeting with discussions between QV’s veteran coach and her players.

“We agreed to make two changes in our lineup that proved to be crucial,” Hays said. “We moved Veeck to No. 3 and Meagher to No. 2, which was a better use of their skill sets. And we put Castellini in first doubles with Webb to give us more experience.”

Veeck and Merkel competed in the section singles tournament; Merkel ended up third to land a spot in the WPIAL playoffs.

The Webb/Castellini and Watson/Gianiodis doubles duos placed second and third, respectively, in the section to earn a berth in the WPIAL tournament. Webb and Castellini qualified for the PIAA tournament.

QV also won the MAC invitational in 2024 with help from junior varsity players Bennett Haas and Leo Jobbins, who won a 7-5 decision after trailing 5-2.

“That was the point that won MACs for us,” Hays said.

Merkel earned a silver medal at No. 2 singles. Webb/Castellini at first doubles and Watson/Haas at second doubles took home gold and silver medals.

“In setting the stage for the 2024 season, it is necessary to mention last year — specifically our last match in 2023,” Hays said. “We viewed last season all along as a dress rehearsal for this year. We had replaced almost an entire starting lineup because of graduation.”

And it was some “dry run” strung together by the Quakers.

QV won a section title in 2023, corralled third place at the MAC invitational, posted an 11-1 record and finished in the top eight at WPIALs.

But a 3-2 postseason loss to Chartiers Valley cost the team trip to Hershey for the first time in several years.

“We had become used to going,” Hays said. “We missed states by one match. I was pleased by how hard the boys took the loss. They were devastated, which showed me they really cared.

“I hoped they would remember that feeling going into the next season. They did, and it was one of the driving forces in 2024 — getting back to Hershey.”

QV squeaked past District 5 winner Bedford, 3-2, in the first round of the PIAA tournament at The Summit in Altoona.

“I think that woke the team up,” Hays said. “It was looking for a bit like it would end right there in Altoona of all places. But again, guess who came through? The doubles teams and William Meagher.”

The Quakers faced District 3 runner-up Conrad Weister in the quarterfinals at Hershey Racquet Club.

“I get nervous thinking about it even though I know the result,” Hays said.

Both doubles tandems won convincingly for QV to set up Meagher, aka Mr. Clutch.

Meagher lost the first set; that only built the stage for his dramatic 7-5, 6-4 finish.

“What a truly remarkable learning curve it was for Meagher (in 2024),” Hays said. “From some really disappointing early season losses to his role as a seasoned player, he able to come through when the team needed him the most. That was a different concept for him, playing for a team and not just for himself.”

The Quakers’ season ended with a 3-0 loss to District 10 champion Cathedral Prep in the PIAA semifinals.

“What an exciting trip to Hershey it was,” Hays said. “We could finally put that loss in 2023 behind us. I looked forward this year to seeing all the boys at practices and riding the bus with them. I was proud to introduce them at each match and proud to watch them play.

“Not only are they nice players, this group has excellent etiquette and good sportsmanship. Opposing coaches and players often commented on how nice our players were. And that means everything to me.”

Meagher will be one of three returning starters on next year’s squad along with Henry and Schultz.

“This was a very successful season and a great way for the seniors on the varsity to go out,” Meagher said. “Next year will definitely be a challenge due to the loss of practically the entire team.

“But I have no doubt we can still have a good season with our incoming freshmen and JV players.”

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