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Mars tennis team ready to move up in 2015

| Saturday, June 7, 2014, 5:39 p.m.
Mars' Drew Ellis (right) returns a shot as his partner, Alex Gruber, looks on during their WPIAL Class AA team semifinal against Valley at Fox Chapel High School on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Mars' Drew Ellis (right) returns a shot as his partner, Alex Gruber, looks on during their WPIAL Class AA team semifinal against Valley at Fox Chapel High School on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.

The Mars boys tennis team proved it is one of the state's best.

And the Planets are ready to show it at the highest level next season.

Mars advanced to the PIAA Class AA team semifinals. While the Planets fell to eventual state champ Wyomissing, the team laid the groundwork for a strong push next season when Mars moves up to Class AAA.

“That'll definitely be an adjustment,” Mars sophomore Josh Raymundo said. “We know we can compete with the top four teams in Double-A. We should be able to compete with the top teams in Triple-A. We are looking forward to seeing the competition there.”

The Planets enjoyed another strong postseason run in the team tournament. They fell to Section 3 rival Sewickley Academy in the WPIAL championship, 4-1, for the second consecutive year. However, Mars rebounded to beat Tussey Mountain, 5-0, and Lancaster Mennonite, 4-1, to reach the PIAA semifinals at the Hershey Racquet Club.

The Planets ran into a powerful Wyomissing squad that posted a 5-0 win and beat Sewickley Academy, 3-2, to defend its state title.

“It was a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun with it. We didn't know we'd make it that far. We surprised ourselves as well as surprised a lot of other teams,” Mars sophomore Aaron Gruber said. “If you ever lose in any sport, you want to lose to the eventual champion.”

Raymundo agreed: “We knew we were a good team. We knew we had a chance to go far. Getting to the semifinals was a big step up for Mars tennis. We knew we could do it, and we are pretty excited with the results.”

Mars returned almost the same lineup from last year's team that reached the PIAA quarterfinals That, combined with Raymundo and Gruber reaching the PIAA quarterfinals in doubles competition, gave the team something to build on this year.

“We got the experience from last year and used it to our advantage this year,” Gruber said. “We weren't totally nervous. We were calmer, and we were ready.”

The Planets hope to continue their progression next year. They do not have a senior among their top seven, so everyone is back.

Raymundo and Gruber occupied the top two singles spots, respectively, and junior Tim Hunt was at No. 3. Sophomore Alex Gruber, who is Aaron's brother, and freshman Noah Raymundo, who is Josh's brother, were at No. 1 doubles. Junior Noah Hudac and freshman Drew Ellis were at No. 2 doubles.

“I feel like our team is really strong, and we'll just grow and get better and put some good wins together next year,” Josh Raymundo said.

In 2015, Mars joins Section 2-AAA with Butler, Hampton, Knoch, Moon, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley.

“It's definitely going to be a challenge. But we are up to the challenge. We'll try to surprise teams who think we aren't as good coming up from Class AA,” Aaron Gruber said. “We definitely feel good knowing that we have everybody back. We want to improve on last season and keep progressing, though.”

Individually, Josh Raymundo was the WPIAL runner-up. He beat Towanda's David Rodenhizer in the first round of the PIAA tournament, but fell to Wyomissing's Andre Flick in the second round, 7-6 (6), 6-2. Flick went on to claim PIAA gold as well. However, his match with Josh Raymundo was his toughest of the tournament.

“I knew going into state singles it'd be a tough match. I had confidence I could do it,” Josh Raymundo said. “In my opinion, I feel like I am right up there. I had a good amount of chances.”

In addition, he'll have to get used to playing new foes next year when the Planets go up to Class AAA.

“I am excited to face different competition and see if I can do just as well, if not better,” he said. “I hope to make a run for it. I am friends with a lot of the top players.”

The Planets hope to keep getting better this summer.

“I want to do anything I can to help me succeed,” Josh Raymundo said. “I will start preparing for next year now. My June schedule is pretty packed with tennis. I am travelling to tournaments a couple weekends here and there.”

Aaron Gruber will play in tournaments this summer, too.

“We all need to get stronger at our fundamentals. We need to get a solid base so we can move on,” he said. “We all just want to get better and better and keep progressing.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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