Carlynton's Phillips claims Section 5-AA singles tournament
Heading into the section tennis tournaments, veterans of the WPIAL have a distinct advantage.
In addition to being more mature in their games, seniors and juniors have a better feel for the format and often more knowledge of the opponents they expect to face. But despite lacking any previous WPIAL tournament experience, Carlynton freshman Luke Phillips proved the odds wrong and captured the Section 5-AA title last week. Phillips is the first Carlynton player to capture a section title since Dan Becker did it in 2007.
“It was a great experience,” Phillips said. “I knew the field pretty well and knew there were a lot of good players. I am really happy with the results.”
Phillips defeated Beth-Center's Frank Zhu, 10-0; Thomas Jefferson's Kash Mahesware, 10-3; and Seton-La Salle's Mike Wilke, 10-4, en route to the finals. In the finals, Phillips defeated Bentworth's Matty Lynch, 6-3, 6-3. It was an upset as the top-seeded Lynch won the section title last season and was a PIAA qualifier.
“He is a great player,” Phillips said. “I knew I had a chance to win if I played well. He got the lead right off the bat. But I adjusted to his shots and found a groove.”
Keystone Oaks senior Chandra Muthiah fell to Wilke, 6-2, 6-2, in the third-place consolation match.
Luke isn't the only Phillips to have an impact on Carlynton tennis recently — older sister Hannah won the Section 5-AA singles tournament in the fall as a sophomore.
Their father Mark is a tennis instructor at Oxford Athletic Club in Wexford. Luke was introduced to the sport at a young age, and his dad has coached him along the way.
“Sometimes we have disagreements like most fathers and sons,” Phillips said. “But we work it out. It is great because he is there all the time and is the reason I am playing.”
Phillips might be new to WPIAL tennis action, but he has competed in a variety of events for years. He is ranked as Pennsylvania's No. 5 player in the class of 2017 by TennisRecruiting.net.
“He has a lot of tournament playing experience,” first-year Carlynton coach Kyle Maines said. “He has played a lot of tennis for his age. There isn't a lot he hasn't seen. He goes into a match knowing his ability and stays within himself. He doesn't play outside of his comfort level.
“He is a leader with the team. He sits around and watches the other guys play. When his match is over, he is right at my hip while I am coaching and cheering them on.”
Winning the section tournament qualified Phillips for the WPIAL Class AA tournament earlier this week –results were unavailable at press time. The experience should prove important as Phillips continues to grow as a player.
“He is a serious player, and I am a serious guy when it comes to coaching,” Maines said. “I think it is great we found each other. As he gets older, he will get bigger, stronger and faster and that will complement his ability. It is scary to think how good he could be.”
Phillips capturing the section title is the first step in what Maines hopes to do at Carlynton. The ultimate prize right now is a section team title. The last time the Cougars captured one was 1981 when Luke's father was a member of the team.
“I want to continue to build the program,” Maines said. “I know a section title is a huge goal especially since next year we move into a new section with stiffer competition like Sewickley Academy and Vincentian Academy. But we have stability moving forward and only have two seniors graduating this year. We're going to keep growing.”