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Valley remains upbeat after 1st loss of season

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 12:15 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley's Andrew Macura returns a shot as his partner, Adam Johnson, looks on during their WPIAL Class AA team semifinal against Mars on Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at Fox Chapel.

Valley wasn't exactly doubled over in discomfort after a 5-0 loss to Mars on Tuesday. Nobody was calling for an airsick bag after the Vikings were tripped up in the WPIAL Class AA boys tennis semifinals at Fox Chapel.

The Vikings (15-1) remained upbeat and positive after their first loss of the season, maybe because a Valley team hasn't been this far in the bracket since 2009. Or maybe because the players know what Wednesday will bring: a fresh opportunity in the form of a third-place consolation match that could put an extra-bright stamp on an already thrilling season — brighter than junior Andrew Macura's orange shoes; brighter than Tuesday's sunshine.

“We didn't expect to make it this far,” said Macura, a first-team doubles player along with junior Adam Johnson. “It's taken hard work on every court, and coach (Rachael) Link has kept us prepared.”

If No. 3-seeded Valley can beat No. 4 Blackhawk, the Vikings will go to the PIAA playoffs for the first time in school history.

“We knew what we were walking into today with (returning WPIAL runner-up) Mars,” Link said. “But I believe playing that caliber of team will help us put bronze medals around our necks (Wednesday).”

Valley quietly has been effective all season, which isn't surprising considering the program has become a regular in the playoffs. But reaching the semifinals shows that Valley is inching closer to taking the next big step in the postseason.

“Without a doubt this is the best team we've had,” Link said. “From day one, we put obstacles and goals in front of them, and they've responded.”

If nothing else, Mars is a barometer for Valley, which lost four of the five matches in straight sets.

“Definitely,” Link said. “We always talk about being seven strong. That's where the success comes from, having your doubles be as strong as your singles.”

Valley had never made it this far with an unblemished record and had never been seeded so highly. When the Vikings reached the WPIAL semis in 2009, they fell 3-2 to Sewickley Academy and by the same score to Chartiers-Houston in the third-place match.

So close yet so far away for a program looking to earn VIP status in the sport. A trip to the state playoffs would help.

“We want to earn that same type of respect, not just in the section, but also in the WPIAL,” Link said.

And respect is a word served up often at Valley.

It might help to explain how a small program from New Kensington repeatedly finds success in individual and team tennis?

The players say it's coaching and commitment.

“It all starts with coach,” Johnson said. “She always gives us a positive feeling. There's always room to get better.”

Said Macura: “We not only respect her, but she has the same respect for us.”

Link believes the players have bought into her concepts, which aren't over-complex but are the foundation for future teams.

“It's been a combination of them loving the sport, their work ethic and them being gentlemen,” Link said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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