Vincentian Academy sophomore Derek Chen was surprised when he looked at the WPIAL Class AA singles tournament bracket for the first time.
As he looked through the names, he didn't see Josh Raymundo, the Mars Area freshman who had beaten Chen in three sets in the Class AA Section 3 championship a few days prior.
"He's my friend, so as soon as I didn't see his name in the WPIAL draw, I called him and he said, 'Yeah, I have appendicitis and win this for me,' or something like that," said Chen, a Cranberry resident.
Chen did just that, winning all four of his WPIAL Class AA tournament matches April 15-16 to become Vincentian's first WPIAL boys singles champion.
"It feels real good to make school history," Chen said.
As a freshman, Chen was the No. 2 singles player for the Royals. He went to the section tournament as the No. 13 seed and lost in the first round to the No. 4 seed, Colin Kaye of Sewickley Academy, 11-10.
As it turned out, it was a really tough draw for Chen, as Kaye not only went on to win the section title, but also the WPIAL championship.
This season is a different story. Chen is Vincentian's No. 1 singles player and entered the Class AA Section 3 tournament as the No. 2 seed.
He defeated another talented Mars freshman, Aaron Gruber, in the quarterfinals before beating Winchester Thurston senior Tym Hoban, 6-0, 6-1, in the semifinals. Then Raymundo beat him, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
Raymundo would have been one of, if not the favorite to win the WPIAL title, but without him playing, Chen was given the No. 4 seed at the WPIAL Class AA tournament.
"As they say, it's the luck of the draw," Vincentian coach Al Skorupka said. "We wish Josh well in his recovery. He'll be back. He's not going away. But it was a good opportunity for Derek to really establish himself."
Chen opened the district tournament April 15 with a 10-1 victory against Chartiers-Houston's Joshua St. Clair, then followed up with 10-5 victory against Beaver's Connor Shallcross in the quarterfinals.
That set up a semifinal matchup against top-seeded Matt Lynch of Bentworth. Chen said he wasn't familiar with most of the players in the WPIAL tournament, but said he actually faced Lynch in his first ever match in tournament play, losing 6-0, 6-0.
"I just wanted to get back at him and see how much I had improved," Chen said.
It was a long, grueling match between the two players. Lynch took the first set, which lasted an hour, in a tiebreak. In fact, the other Class AA semifinal match between Greenburg Central Catholic's Bargo Patel and Thomas Jefferson's Jake Mascaro was ending around the same time Chen and Lynch's first set came to a close.
Chen battled back to take the second set, 6-4, then cruised to a 6-0 victory in the final set to advance to the championship match against Mascaro.
After having played three matches, the last of which took three-and-a-half hours, Chen was glad the final wasn't until the next day so he could recuperate.
"I went home, drank a lot of water, ate a lot of saltine crackers and bananas and just tried to rest up," Chen said.
He also got to play on the same courts where he once trained. The WPIAL championship and consolation matches for both Class AAA and Class AA were supposed to be played at North Allegheny High School, but due to the threat of rain, they were all moved indoors to the Lakevue Athletic Club in Valencia.
"I thought I had a home-court advantage," Chen said.
Chen quickly asserted himself, winning the first five games against Mascaro before the Jaguars senior got one back. Chen would win the final game of the set, then take all six in the second set for a 6-1, 6-0 victory.
"It was a nice culmination for him to pull out the straight-set victory," Skorupka said.
By virtue of his WPIAL conquest, Chen will in play in the PIAA Class AA singles tournament May 24-25 in Hershey.
First Published April 25, 2013 4:00 AM