Doubles players anchor talented Thomas Jefferson tennis squad
It was a win-win situation for Chuck Correll, Thomas Jefferson's head tennis coach, when his two doubles teams faced off for the Section 5-AA championship earlier this season.
Though one tandem had to lose, both earned a trip to the WPIAL tournament, along with the Jaguars' No. 1 singles player, Jake Mascaro.
It's evidence of the hard work his team has put in all season, according to Correll.
The Jaguars were the undefeated (10-0) section champions, and were seeded second in the WPIAL team tournament.
But perhaps nothing illustrates the depth of the team better than the doubles showdown that occurred during the section championships.
In that match, Thomas Jefferson doubles players Ritwik and Sumanya Gupta, both juniors, squared off against their senior teammates John Ha and Keaton Lindberg for the section title.
The Gupta twins ultimately won the match and bragging rights.
“There was a bunch of trash talking before the match about who was going to win,” Lindberg said.
But he admits all of that ended when both teams were bounced from the WPIAL doubles tournament the following week.
Lindberg and Ha lost in the opening round of the WPIAL tournament, 10-8, to a team from Valley. The Guptas lost in the WPIAL quarterfinal round to a team from Mars. Neither of the Jaguars' teams qualified for the state tournament
Lindberg says playing against his teammates in such a big match was unusual.
“It was fun at first. We were relaxed because we know each other,” Lindberg said. “But then you realize someone has to lose.”
With two of his teams playing against each other, Correll was in a strange coaching situation too.
“Coach Correll told us he wasn't going to tell us how to beat the other team. He would only correct our own weaknesses during the match,” Lindberg said.
The Gupta brothers played doubles together last year during the regular season, but this year Sumanya (Sam) has played singles while Rit has played No. 1 doubles with Lindberg.
Correll switched things up for the section championships, reuniting the twins for the championship doubles action.
“Rit plays phenomenal doubles with his brother. Sam is steady; he rarely makes a mistake. Rit has all the shots but takes some risks,” Correll said.
The doubles players have anchored a strong Thomas Jefferson squad in 2013 that secured the Section 5-AA team championship.
Among them are seniors Steve Nicola and Apruva Patel, who went undefeated at No. 2 doubles during regular-season action.
Mascaro won the section singles title and was the WPIAL Class AA singles runner-up. He also qualified for states.
Mascaro also was a star wide receiver on the Jaguars' football team. He started playing tennis as a freshman, and has developed into one of the best singles players in the WPIAL.
“He's never had a tennis lesson,” Correll said. “He's really a diamond in the rough.”
Earlier this week, Thomas Jefferson had hoped to play for the WPIAL Class AA team championship, and qualify for the state tournament.
The local squad beat Neshannock, 5-0, on Monday, but fell to Mars by the same 5-0 score one day later.
Mascaro is the Jaguars' first singles player to qualify for the state tournament since Scott Taylor advanced to states nine years ago in 2003.
“With all the games and practices leading up to it, I just hope I'm at my peak then and play my best,” Mascaro said. “That's my goal.”
Jennifer Goga is a freelance writer.