Entering this season, no Mt. Lebanon tennis player had qualified for the PIAA Class AAA singles tournament since the clock struck midnight on the 20th Century.
The Blue Devils had several players qualify for the state doubles tournament during the past 13 years, and the Mt. Lebanon team has qualified for the state tournament four times since 2000, including in 2011 and 2012.
But there were no singles state qualifiers ... until now.
Junior Peter Hazlett was the runner-up to Central Catholic's Adam Blasinsky at the WPIAL Class AAA singles championships in April to give the Blue Devils a presence at Hershey this week.
"It's going to be a great experience," Hazlett said. "I'm happy to be there."
Hazlett lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, but has been one of the best players in the WPIAL all season. He has lost only three matches, and two came against Blasinsky. The other came against Upper St. Clair's Fernando Escribens in a section dual meet.
The biggest difference in his game this season is his improved physicality.
"I think his fitness is better this year," Mt. Lebanon coach Augie Garofoli said. "He's stronger physically, so his serve has gotten much better. He's holding serve more often now. It's probably the biggest change in his game."
He'll need that power at the state tournament because it is played on the fast indoor hard-court surface at Hershey Racquet Club. It's a change for Hazlett, as most WPIAL matches are played outdoors.
But Hazlett does have experience playing on the Hershey courts, having played in the state team tournament in each of the past two seasons.
"It's going to help just having played there the past two seasons and knowing how fast the courts are," Hazlett said. "It's nice knowing just how they play."
Hazlett also has a little knowledge on his first-round state tournament opponent, District 2 champion Jai Redkar of Abington Heights.
Redkar and Hazlett both played in the same tournament in Altoona in early April, but didn't face each other. Redkar lost to Conestoga Valley's Darren Mast, another state qualifier. Hazlett beat Mast in straight sets on his way to the title.
Redkar and Hazlett's match will start at noon Friday.
TJ senior heads to Hershey
Many of the top tennis amateurs play year-round.
Jake Mascaro doesn't have that luxury. A senior at Thomas Jefferson, he spends much of his tennis offseason playing football, where he was a standout receiver for the Jaguars.
But the lack of tennis experience hasn't stopped Mascaro from becoming one of the better players in the WPIAL.
Mascaro lost only twice this season, one of which came in the WPIAL Class AA singles championship match to Vincentian's Derek Chen. The second-place finish qualified Mascaro for the PIAA Class AA tournament, which starts Friday in Hershey.
"Jake has never officially had a tennis lesson," Thomas Jefferson coach Chuck Correll Sr. said. "Almost all of the best players have taken lessons, played since they were 5 years old and go to tournaments in the offseason. But Jake is busy getting ready for football. It just shows you how athletic he is."
Correll said Mascaro may be the first football player ever to play No. 1 singles for him in more than 30 years of coaching. But Mascaro says football has been instrumental for him on the tennis court.
"It really helps with my footwork," Mascaro said. "I am able to get my feet set and in good position. And my speed is a big strength."
It's that speed that has made Mascaro tough to play against. He can run down almost any shot an opponent hits, no matter the angle.
But the major difference this season is a change in his approach. Instead of just being content on the defensive end, Mascaro is taking more advantage of his opponents' mistakes this season.
It has helped him go from a Section 5 quarterfinalist in 2012 to one of the best singles players in the district.
"To use a boxing term, he's become a counter-puncher," Correll said. "He's not going to make mistakes because he's very consistent and he forces his opponent to be more aggressive. So they'll take more chances, and he's capitalizing on them."
Mascaro, who is also an outstanding student who currently is No. 2 in his senior class, will play District 4 champion Ben Koch of Lewisburg at 9 a.m. Friday at Hershey Racquet Club.
Correll said any opponent of Mascaro will have to play his best to win.
"A player will have to be on his game to beat Jake," he said. "No one will be able to play an average or below average game and beat him."hsother