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Sewickley Academy sweeps state singles, doubles titles

| Saturday, May 27, 2017, 8:33 p.m.

HERSHEY — What a weekend at Hershey for Sewickley Academy. The Panthers — if not considered such already — are the gold standard for small school tennis in the PIAA.

But you won't hear them bragging about it.

Sewickley brought home the gold in the PIAA Class AA singles and doubles tournaments Saturday afternoon at Hershey Racquet Club and added bronze late in the day.

Luke Ross defended his singles title by clipping Will Wanner of Lancaster Mennonite, 6-4, 6-4, in the AA championship match. Ross was the first Panther to win a state singles title. Now he has done it twice.

On the doubles side, Neil Rana and Ryan Gex upended Moravian Academy's Abbhi Sekar and Oliver Scott, 6-4, 6-4, in the title match.

In the bronze-medal doubles match, Sewickley Academy's Arjan Bedi and Nishant Purewall beat Wyomissing's Will Schreck and Ben Croft 6-2, 7-6 (2).

Quite the haul. But to hear Sewickley coach Whitney Snyder tell it, the sense of obligation and drive for achievement from his players is innate, organic. He does not push any tradition or program mystique on them. Doesn't need to.

“I think it all starts with the fact the kids on the team have really loved playing for Sewickley Academy,” Snyder said. “They don't look at this as an individual singles or doubles tournament; they look at it part of a process, of how they make this a team sport. That's why they put so much effort in not just this weekend, but year-round. They have that pride and that's a credit to them.

“We never talk about goals. Never even brought up. But the seeds that are planted are for team success. And everyone buys in.”

Ross captured his second consecutive state crown — not done since Lower Moreland's Taylor Cohen in 2007-08 — with a solid performance against Wanner, a fellow senior who pushed the champ but could not break through.

Ross picked up a key service break in the first set, at 3-3, to provide margin. Wanner broke Ross back midway through the second set to cancel out another Ross break; Sewickley's ace broke right back to regain control of the frame and saw the match through without further interruption.

Ross's shot placement and selection were effective counters to Wanner's game, which came at him from all angles. His serve was on-point, as well. It was the calm performance of a seasoned veteran who has been here before.

“I was really happy with my serve today,” Ross said. “I was only broken once, and it gave me a lot of gains. Very few double-faults and a high first-serve percentage. … I tried to stay aggressive, and I felt really dialed in. If I let him be aggressive, I'm going to get beat.”

Ross endured a tough semifinal earlier Saturday, a 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 win over Adrian Roji of New Hope Solebury. Wanner had reached with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Carlynton's Luke Phillips.

Rana and Gex, also seniors, were off the courts prior to Ross's finals win, delivering the first medal of the day.

“This was definitely the hardest match we faced all season,” Gex said of the gold-medal contest. “We knew it was going to be a tough match. We knew we were going to have to mix it up a lot on those guys.”

Rana: “It was going to be our last high school match, and we wanted to have fun with it. We didn't overthink it too much. We just played our game. … it was a fairytale ending.”

A seven-deuce game, with Sewickley on-serve and leading 2-1 in the first set, was the match highlight. Rana and Gex pulled out to take a 3-1 lead and didn't relinquish that edge.

“We never gave up on the game, even when we were add-out,' Gex said. “We kept pushing at it. We pulled it out.”

Bedi and Purewall lost to Sekar and Scott in Saturday's other doubles semifinal, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(4), before rebounding the capture bronze.

Connor Bruce of Peters Township lost his AAA semifinal to Lower Merion's Matt Robinson 6-3, 6-3, then fell short of bronze with a loss to Robinson teammate Matt Chen 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in the third-place match.

Jeff Dewees is a freelance writer.

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