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Valley's Schrecongost gets serious about tennis career

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 12:31 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News DIspatch
Valley's Cody Schrecongost returns a backhand against Burrell's Tom Spagnolo during their WPIAL Section 4-AA championship match Tuesday, April 9, 2013, at Valley High School in New Kensington.

When Valley boys tennis coach Rachael Link notices a text message on her phone from junior Cody Schrecongost, she rarely needs to read it.

Link knows it's likely a request from her standout singles player: Please show up at the court for a hitting session.

A year-round devotee to the sport for the first time, Schrecongost, who started playing tennis as a freshman, might soon become one of Valley's most decorated players. He's already a two-time Section 4-AA champion. On Monday, he'll enter the WPIAL singles championships at Keystone Oaks as a serious contender for a title — or at least a spot in the PIAA tournament. The top three finishers advance to states.

“The evolution of Cody is remarkable,” Link said. “And all of the fruits he's seeing now with his success are because of his diligence and determination on the court.

“He doesn't want (to hit) just at practice. He knows he needs to work outside of practice. He's learned all of the different components to be not just a good tennis player but a competitive player in the WPIAL, and he's done it at a remarkable pace.”

Schrecongost, a WPIAL quarterfinalist as a sophomore, enters the 2013 tournament as the No. 2 seed after a dominant section showing last week in which he lost just three games. He defeated Burrell junior Tom Spagnolo, 6-1, 6-0, in the finals.

In eight years as coach of the boys and girls teams, Link has seen her share of decisive victories at the section level. She knows the WPIAL presents considerably tougher challenges, which is why, though she has had many standouts, she's never watched one qualify for a PIAA berth. Courtney Brennan came close in 2012 when she placed fourth.

Because of his almost daily tennis play during the summer and his work with David Bender at the Pittsburgh Indoor Tennis Club in East Liberty during the winter, Schrecongost might possess the skills to break through where Valley predecessors fell short.

“He has not only the ability but the desire to get there,” said Bender, who also coaches at Keystone Oaks. “I think he is pretty well grounded and understands who he is as a player.

“He makes players beat themselves. That's the No. 1 thing about him.”

Schrecongost admitted he's not the type to impose his will from the start of a match. Instead, he gets a sense of his opponent's strengths and weaknesses. Then, with his excellent foot speed and well-rounded racquet skills, the righty picks apart the foe.

That's how his WPIAL first-round match with Ellwood City's Matt Barnes unfolded last season. Schrecongost and Barnes traded points until they were tied at 5. Then Schrecongost proceeded to win the next five points to end the match.

Against Hampton's Brad Cisek in the quarterfinals, Schrecongost struggled to find and exploit weaknesses. He lost, 10-3.

A talented soccer player and swimmer, he still found time during the tennis offseason to get on the court and hit. Only during the soccer season did he set the racquet aside completely.

“I wanted to be serious for tennis this year, so I started focusing on it during the winter,” he said.

His progress during the past year, the product of his year-round dedication, caught him by surprise.

“I didn't think I was going to be as good as I am right now,” he said. “I think I've become less conservative. I've gotten more confidence in myself as the season has gone on.”

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