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Team-first mentality again plays key role for WPIAL champion Sewickley Academy tennis

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Sewickley Academy's Luke Ross returns a serve against Mars' Josh Raymundo during the WPIAL Class AA team tennis championship match Thursday, May, 8, 2014, at North Allegheny High School in McCandless.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Sewickley Academy's Sam Sauter returns a serve against Mars' Aaron Gruber during the WPIAL Class AA team tennis championship match Thursday, May, 8, 2014, at North Allegheny High School in McCandless.

For some, high school tennis comes down to the individual; success is based on what happens during the WPIAL singles and doubles tournaments.

But for Sewickley Academy boys tennis, the team comes first.

“Tennis is not an individual sport at Sewickley Academy,” coach Whitney Snyder said. “We make this as much of a team experience as we can. These kids have team dinners and there is a lot of bonding. There is a real cohesive nucleus. That is what high school sports should be about.”

The team-first mentality has led to one of the longest running streaks in WPIAL history as the Panthers claimed their 11th straight Class AA team title and 19th in 22 years last week.

“I can't think of anything better,” senior Danny McCormick said. “Its like everyone from the past is counting on you. Some former players even came out to watch us play. It is great to be able to carry on the tradition of a winning atmosphere.”

The Panthers took an early 2-0 lead over Mars as McCormick won in third singles and senior Andrew Parda and sophomore Brian Rosario won in second doubles.

The Planets pulled an upset at No. 1 doubles as Noah Raymundo and Alex Gruber defeated the 2014 WPIAL Class AA doubles champions — freshman Ryan Gex and senior Lux Vith — in straight sets to cut into the Panthers' lead.

The deciding set was at first singles as Luke Ross defeated Josh Raymundo, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. The pair are not strangers — the Mars sophomore won twice in the regular season and the Panthers' freshman grabbed wins in the section and WPIAL individual finals.

“He is a great player,” Ross said. “Every time we play, he brings out my best game.”

Freshman Sam Sauter defeated Aaron Gruber in a third-set tiebreaker to give Sewickley Academy its final point. As one of the team's four underclassmen that played for the WPIAL title, Sauter said the pressure was huge.

“I have never been more nervous in my life,” Sauter said. “I have played countless USTA tournaments but it is totally different here. If I lose I am not letting down myself but all of the guys.”

The win was the third showdown between Mars and Sewickley Academy this season — the Panthers won 3-2 on March 25 and 4-1 on April 9.

“Since I have been on the team, we have played them twice in the regular season and in the WPIAL finals each year,” Rosario said. “Each time it has been heated and close.”

The Panthers defeated Thomas Jefferson, 5-0, and Blackhawk, 5-0, en route to the finals.

The team title win was the latest addition to an already long list of Panthers accomplishments this season. Ross captured the WPIAL Class AA individual title earlier this season while Gex and Vith won the doubles crown. McCormick and Parda also qualified for the PIAA doubles tournament, finishing third in the WPIAL.

But in the end, winning a title as a team may be the biggest of them all.

“Winning as a group is even better,” Ross said. “You have your teammates there to support you and you can support them. You get to represent your school and coach even more, which is really rewarding.”

Sewickley Academy opened the PIAA tournament against Elk County Catholic on Tuesday. Results were unavailable at press time.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at nsmith@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.

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