Southmoreland tennis celebrates 4th straight section title
Since becoming the coach of the Southmoreland boys tennis team in 2011, Jim Kessler has known nothing but success when it comes to his squad's competitiveness in Section 1-AA.
From 2011-14, the Scotties have compiled a section record of 48-4, which translates to four straight section titles. Southmoreland clinched the section title last week with a win over McGuffey. The Scotties won the section outright both this year and last, after sharing the crown with Greensburg Salem in 2012 and Mt. Pleasant in 2011.
“It's surreal,” Kessler said. “It's just awesome.”
Kessler is quick to point out that the quality of the players on the team are the No. 1 reason for the program's success. This has been especially important considering that not all the faces are the same each season, yet the Scotties have persevered.
“I think that in the first year, we had a lot of players, and we were lucky to have players that wanted to put the work in,” Kessler said.
Two athletes, Tyler Fox and Kevin Bundridge, were top singles players who were vital pieces to the first three section championship teams. However, Fox and Bundridge graduated in 2013, leaving some question marks as to whether or not the Scotties could make it four section titles in a row. But right from the start of the season, Kessler began instilling confidence in the group, even after a tough start.
“After we won the section, I asked them if they remembered the hanger story,” Kessler said, noting that during an early-season practice, the team was struggling to find its game.
He gathered the players and asked them to find a clothes hanger and make room for it in their closet because that's where they would hang their section championship sweatshirt at the end of the season.
“They all remembered the story,” he said. “We take nothing for granted, but I put it in their heads that they have a good shot to win the section.”
Those hangers will be covered thanks to a group of players who have shown a tremendous amount of dedication and determination.
“It's just a discipline thing,” Kessler said. “They are always at practice and they respect each other. They know what to expect from me, and I'm always fair with them. Plus, we are blessed with a lot of talent. These kids are athletic and I've been lucky to have them.”
Experience has also played a part in the team's success. Seniors Luke Zeleznik and Davis Simon are four-year starters who have been a part of all of the section title teams. Seniors Adam Snyder and Adam Hernley have been starters on three straight section-winning teams. Junior Henry Riley has started for two straight seasons while juniors Brock Grabiak and Isaac Proch are first-year starters.
“I feel like there is pressure to excel,” Simon said. “But there is always an encouraging atmosphere, and that makes it an enjoyable experience. I was intimidated by high school sports, but I'm real surprised by how much I have enjoyed it.”
Snyder is also pleased to be a part of a successful team, and he hopes it continues well into the future.
“I've been a part of the last three titles and I'm real happy to represent the school, and it gives us the image of a powerful team,” Snyder said. “To be a part of this will be a great high school memory. Hopefully, (the younger players) can live up to the expectations.”
While the Scotties have done well in the section, they have struggled somewhat in the WPIAL playoffs, going 1-3 in the past three postseasons. This year, Kessler hopes a new strategy will help the team in the playoffs.
“What we want to do is line up a couple of scrimmages against (Class AAA) schools, just to get ready,” Kessler said.
The WPIAL team tennis playoffs are scheduled to begin May 1.