After making state tournament, 2 on Mars tennis team eye singles success

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Josh Raymundo and Aaron Gruber were key parts of the Mars tennis team's success this year.

The freshman duo helped the squad to a WPIAL Class AA runner-up finish and a PIAA quarterfinals appearance.

The two paired together for some additional success. Already known as top singles players, they entered the Section 3-AA doubles tournament and finished runners-up in that tournament, as well as in the WPIAL.

“In doubles, it really takes time to get used to your partner. They had never played doubles before,” Mars coach Chris Knauff said. “I feel like they were comfortable. They had a pretty sharp learning curve. They are good players and smart kids and hard workers. They were able to pick up different strategies and, overall, the philosophy changes.

“In singles, you're playing long points and wearing down opponents. In doubles, you want to end the point as soon as you can. It's a real change of style of play. They were able to adjust quickly and I was pleased. They picked up steam in the section tournament. In the WPIAL tournament, they continued to play better.”

In the section tournament, Raymundo and Gruber beat Vincentian's Brad Martin and John DiDonato (10-5) and Winchester Thurston's Tym Hoban and Charlie Orr (6-3, 6-1). In the finals, they fell to Sewickley Academy seniors Will Kleeman and Colin Kaye (6-2, 6-1).

The Mars duo reached the final in the WPIAL tournament with wins over Connellsville's Ryan Hartz and Nic Calvaresi (10-2), Thomas Jefferson's Sumanya Gupta and Ritwik Guptka (10-2) and Greensburg Central Catholic's Bargo Patel and Dan Seamans, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3).

They faced Kleeman and Kay for gold once again, but fell, 6-3, 6-2.

“That Sewickley team, those guys have been playing together forever. They are seasoned players,” Knauff said. “The best thing about Josh and Aaron is they are just confident in their ability. That's half the battle in tennis, going for a shot and keeping their opponent on their heels. They were excellent in doing that.”

The two Planets players earned a berth to the PIAA tournament, which was held at the Hershey Racquet Club on May 24-25. They opened with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Loyalsock's Caleb Vuocolo and Mark Odorizzi. They competed well against Lancaster Country Day's Spencer Rhoads and Wes Davis, but fell, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, in the quarterfinals. Rhoads and Davis went on to win the PIAA championship.

“I wish we could get another set against them. It was a really tight match. They played really well,” Knauff said. “I was very impressed with the way they were playing. They were aggressive even though it was freshmen vs. seniors. The first and second sets, they were really the aggressive team and dictating play. I was pleasantly surprised to see that happen. I am sure they will build on the experience. I don't anticipate they will play doubles together anymore because they will focus on singles. But, it was a lot of fun.”

Next year, Raymundo and Gruber hope to qualify for the PIAA singles tournament. Tennis players cannot qualify for both singles and doubles competition.

“Their goal is to make the state tournament in singles. I know they have the ability to do that,” Knauff said. “If, for some reason, they want to do doubles, that's fine with me. From what they have said so far, they are going to focus on singles, though.”

An appendectomy halted Raymundo's chance at making the PIAA singles tournament this year. He won the Section 3 title, but had to withdraw from the WPIAL tournament.

Gruber gained valuable experience filling in for Raymundo as the Planets' top singles player in the tough Section 3 race.

“He had a little trouble with consistency when he was playing at No. 1. But he did get a few good wins against players that were very good No. 1s,” Knauff said. “Overall, he did continue to improve throughout the season in consistency and confidence.”

Knauff looks forward to see how Raymundo and Gruber progress during the offseason.

“From my coaching experience, the biggest improvement comes from the freshman to the sophomore year,” he said. “I am really excited to see how these guys improve.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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