Sewickley Academy's Ross emerges with PIAA tennis gold
HERSHEY — Two springs ago, Luke Ross was here.
A supremely talented freshman tennis player for Sewickley Academy, Ross fought his way into the PIAA Class AA singles championship match.
And got crushed.
Wyomissing junior Andre Fick bageled Ross in a forgettable final at Hershey Racquet Club.
Ross spent part of his sophomore season at a tennis academy in Florida — enough time, in fact, to not be eligible for states last year upon his return to Pennsylvania.
But it was time well spent. Ross's game was polished to a fine shine.
The Sewickley junior stepped back on the state singles courts this weekend at HRC for the first time since that 2014 final and delivered the program's first singles gold medal Saturday with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Luke Phillips of Carlynton.
It was the WPIAL's only gold medal of the day, despite having several entrants survive into Saturday's semifinals.
Ross did not dominate Phillips — he trailed 3-2 early in the second set before ripping off four consecutive games to close it out — but there was never a sense during his four PIAA matches that proceedings were not under his control.
Two springs and time spent playing the best the country has to offer in his age group seasoned his gamementally and physically.
“All the best young players in the country and the world are at academies full time, so I know I needed to do something to bring my level up,” Ross said.
“It was just a great experience to go down there. Great players down there, playing seven hours a day.”
Ross said during last week's team championships — also won by the Panthers — that he valued the school and team aspects of tennis.
He was quick to do the same Saturday night with a singles gold medal hanging around his neck.
“I count this as a team win, too,” he said. “We've had a ton of teammates here, and they stayed to watch, that's how tight the program is.
“It's a win for them as much as it is for me. ... Here, you have your school, your team and your coach.”
Ross countered Phillips' probes by forcing the Carlynton junior to cover the baseline.
“I thought I played him pretty smart,” Ross said. “He was playing really well, too.
“Whenever I gave him my short ball, he hit me off the court right away.
“So I think I adjusted pretty well by keeping the ball as deep as possible against him.”
Ross reached the final by dispatching freshman Jonathan Nottingham of Masterman, 6-4, 6-2, in the semis.
Whit Snyder's Panthers also sent the brothers Gex — Don and Ryan — into the Class AA doubles semifinals, but they were beaten by the eventual champions, Scranton Prep's Pete Kazmierczak and Tony Kutz, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0, in a tough three-setter.
“It was a tip of the cap to the opponents,” Snyder said. “We came out and won the first set playing very solid doubles. They are the top singles players for one of the stronger programs in the state in Scranton Prep.
“We had opportunities to win it in the second set in close fashion, but the other team got better as the match went on. They earned it.”
Perhaps the day's biggest upset involved the defending Class AAA doubles champions from North Allegheny, Jared Isaacs and Richard Hofmann.
The Tigers dropped a 5-7, 7-6 (1), 6-3 decision in the title match to brothers Joe and Matt DeMarco of Erie Cathedral Prep.
“When you get to this level, the toughest thing to understand is how hard it is to get here,” Tigers coach Dominic Gliozzi said. “Both teams played outstanding tennis. ... They took advantage of the second set tiebreak. In high school, that's a tough route to overcome.”
In Isaacs' case, he was a two-time defending champ, having won it all with playing partner Kevin Goth as a sophomore in 2014.
He came within a game not won during the second set of making it three in a row. Cathedral Prep rallied to win a second-set tiebreaker to keep the match alive.
“We got off to a good start, got a break in the first set,” Isaacs said. “We had opportunities to end it in the second but didn't. ... It's tough, obviously. I've just got to move on from it.”
Fox Chapel sent its top two players, freshman Robby Shymansky and senior Sidd Rajupet, into the Class AAA singles semis.
Rajupet went out to eventual champion Michael Dickson of Downingtown East, 7-5, 6-3, but not before throwing a major scare into East's ace, who was making a repeat appearance.
Shymansky clipped Lower Merion's Matt Chen in his semi, 6-3, 7-5, before falling to Dickson in the title match by a 6-4, 6-3 score.
Jeff Dewees is a freelance writer.