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Greensburg Salem grad hopes to lead alma mater's boys tennis team to postseason

| Friday, March 21, 2014, 3:12 p.m.

Twelve years ago, Christopher Gazze was a senior at Greensburg Salem.

Now, he is the boys tennis coach.

“Returning to Greensburg Salem was a dream job of mine,” said Gazze, a 2002 graduate who also is a physics teacher and percussion instructor. “Not only getting to teach but to give back through coaching and other activities has been a great experience for me.

“I'm really glad to have the opportunity to give back to the school that gave so much to me over the years.”

The Golden Lions got off to a 1-1 start in their initial season under Gazze's leadership. They dropped their first match in Section 1-AAA play, a 3-2 defeat at home against Kiski Area.

Senior Aaron DeCarlucci and juniors Thomas Anton and Garrett King are Greensburg Salem's top three singles players, in that order. Jason Stofko and Kyle Merritt, both seniors, make up the team's top doubles tandem, with the other pair consisting of sophomore Riley Maruca and senior Matt Steinhauswer.

Senior Noah Morse, juniors Fernando Soriano, Connor Simpson and Brandon Perfetta and sophomores Terry Madarish, Tommy Lowden, Keon Winters and Dorian Claiborne round out the roster of 15. Each will try to crack the top seven by the time midseason rosters become effective April 2.

Greensburg Salem's three captains are DeCarlucci, Stofko and Merritt.

“I think we have a solid team,” said DeCarlucci, who has played in all four years of high school. “Everyone that's on the team now I've played with at least a couple years. I've seen them all grow and I think we're at our best point yet, so it should be a pretty good season ahead of us.”

Last season, their first in Class AAA, the Golden Lions failed to finish in the top three of Section 1, so they did not qualify for the WPIAL team tournament. They did not send anyone to the league's singles or doubles championships either.

That year's team was flush with seniors — including Tyler Brinton, Dillon Boggs and Jordan Schall, the top three singles players — so the 2013-14 version is a little light on varsity experience.

“We'd all been learning from them,” DeCarlucci said. “When they were here last year, they taught us some things that we're using this year. I think we'll be all right.”

The lessons didn't end there. DeCarlucci said Gazze and the rest of the staff are very serious about helping the players improve, which has led to lots of drills and more attention on aspects such as form than has been seen in the past.

“The players are responding great,” Gazze said. “They're just excited to get on the court really. They've been very open to the new ideas and strategies and practice routines that we're putting into place. They also provide feedback on our end too and really help out with some stuff they did in previous years, so we can make the transition a little bit easier for them as well.”

Strong, consistent development for his players is at the top of Gazze's wish list. Beyond that, he's hoping to compete in Section 1 and maybe even send some players to the WPIAL individual tournaments.

“It's a challenging section. I know that every match is going to be a big challenge,” he said. “We'll have every opportunity to go out there and put together a solid match each week, just as the other team will. I don't see why we won't be able to have a chance to make a name in the section this season.

“Hopefully, we can be one of those teams that they're talking about each week, saying ‘OK, we've got to be up for Greensburg Salem.' ”

Mark Emery is a freelance writer.

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