West/North Xtra: Sewickley prepares for usual title run

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Since the Class AA classification was started in boys tennis, Sewickley Academy has won 18 of the 21 WPIAL titles, including the past 10.

So the Panthers don't rebuild as much as they reload, and reload is what they've done this season after losing four of their top five players from the 2013 team.

"Our practices have been more about head-to-head challenge matches and less about working on the fundamentals," Sewickley Academy coach Whitney Snyder said. "We're trying to set the starting lineup."

The Panthers lost Colin Kaye, the 2012 WPIAL singles champion and 2013 WPIAL doubles champion with Will Kleeman, a three-time WPIAL doubles champion who also graduated after playing No. 2 singles last season. The Panthers No. 3 singles player, 2012 WPIAL doubles champion Patrick Dellinger, also graduated.

But the Panthers added one of the top freshmen in the state in Luke Ross, whom tennisrecruiting.net ranks as the No. 3 player in the Class of 2017 in Pennsylvania. Snyder said Ross' spot at No. 1 singles is the only lock currently in the lineup.

"To play No. 1 singles on the varsity team as a freshman is really impressive," Snyder said. "He's the strongest player on our team by a large margin."

Behind Ross are eight players competing for the other six starting lineup spots.

Two freshmen, Ryan Gex and Sam Sauter, are in competition with Danny McCormick for the other two singles spots behind Ross. At doubles, Sewickley returns two starters in seniors Logan Yee and Luke Vith, with senior Andrew Parda, sophomore Brian Rosario and junior Wyatt Geller also competing for spots in the doubles lineup.

Snyder said he will likely change up his starters each match until settling on a final lineup, hopefully around the time of the section doubles tournament on April 22.

"It'd be nice to know by then when we have to send in our doubles teams," Snyder said. "You hope they have good chemistry there, mesh well and your lineup is established. If not, you have to start all over again."

Despite the turnover, Sewickley has already knocked off Mars Area, the projected top obstacle for the Panthers winning their 11th consecutive title.

The Planets returned virtually every player from last season's team that lost to Sewickley in the WPIAL final, including the top player in WPIAL Class AA in sophomore Josh Raymundo, who beat Ross in straight sets.

Still, the Panthers won the match against their Section 3 foe, 3-2.

Ross got some payback against Raymundo, however, at the Class AA Section 3 singles tournament, when he defeated his Mars nemesis, 6-4, 6-7 (10-12), 6-2 in the championship match.

Sewickley will play Mars again later in the season, and will also play its usual brutal non-section schedule that features matches against Class AAA powers North Allegheny, Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon and Shady Side Academy.

Snyder believes that he'll glean more information about his players and his team from those matches than he ever can in challenge matches at practice.

"Playing against those top teams is where you get your information," Snyder said. "It's hard to play your buddy over and over again in practice.

"When we play North Allegheny or Shady Side, you get information right there. Win or lose, you know if something's wrong and if there's something we need to work on later in the year.

"It's a very, very long season and you have to be patient."

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