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Latrobe tennis sets sights on section title

| Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Latrobe is seeking a section tennis championship, and not just for Chad Kissell.

After a dramatic three-and-a-half hours last Wednesday at the Latrobe courts, the Wildcats emerged with a 3-2 victory over Franklin Regional, placing them at 5-2 in Section 3-AAA, just one loss behind Penn-Trafford and Kiski Area for first place.

With five section matches still on the schedule as of Monday, including dates at Penn-Trafford (April 18) and against Kiski Area at home (April 23), there's no mistaking what the Wildcats are eyeing.

"If we win out, we'll take the section, and I would like to see that," Latrobe coach Jon Mains said. "We haven't won a boys section since 2003. Ultimately, that's my goal every year, at least to make playoffs. But this year, I'm going to set it a little bit higher. I want the section."

Leading the way on a team loaded with seniors, oddly enough, is a freshman. Kissell, the talented ninth-grader, hasn't lost a section match this season and will be Latrobe's top entry in the section singles tournament this Thursday and Friday at Franklin Regional.

As of Monday, Mains had yet to choose the other Wildcat to compete in sectionals, because Trevor Octavio and Mitch Wilt, the No. 2 and No. 3 singles players, will be on a National Honors Society trip to New York. Therefore, Mains said he'd let his other seniors play for that spot.

That seems appropriate in a year when seven of Latrobe's players are seniors. Manis said it "makes a huge difference when guys have been with you," and that this is one of the best groups of players he's ever coached.

Also, Latrobe began a junior varsity program two years ago, and Mains sees that experience paying dividends for those upperclassmen, including Octavio, Wilt, Pat Trumbetta, Collin Cimba and the No. 2 doubles pairing of Nathan Apel and Doug Smeltzer that battled for a 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4 win over Franklin Regional's Kevin Mechlenburg and Rohan Hattangady in the final and deciding match last Wednesday.

"This is their fourth year with me. Their experience pays off," Mains said. "They're able to jell with one another and communicate well with each other because they've been working together for so long. Having senior leadership is key to our success, for sure."

It also doesn't hurt to have a Kissell on the team. The younger brother of the decorated trio of Kissell sisters, Chad figures to be a favorite to win the Section 1 singles tournament and perhaps advance in the WPIAL singles championships, provided he's able to get over a slight knee injury.

"I feel good, I guess," Kissell said. "So far, I've beaten everyone in the section, and WPIALs are coming up. That's probably going to be a little tougher. Recently, I've kind of injured my knee, so I'm probably going to have to get that better."

Wilt recently missed some time with a concussion. Regardless, the Wildcats still had a clear path toward their first section championship in nearly a decade.

"Team-wise, we control our own fate," Mains said. "We win out and we win the section. It's that easy."

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