A three-sport athlete, Greater Latrobe junior Chad Kissell didn't play as much tennis in the offseason during his freshman and sophomore years as many of the other top players in the area because he was concentrating on golf or basketball.
But this past year, he made a concerted effort to focus on tennis, even while participating in his other two sports. The added work has paid off.
Kissell finished second last week at the WPIAL Class AAA singles tournament to qualify for the PIAA tournament May 23-24 in Hershey.
"Last year, I wasn't quite focused on tennis," said Kissell, who lives in the Hostetter section of Unity Township.
"This year, I concentrated on tennis and started training harder and playing tournaments a lot more. Obviously the training I've done has paid off."
Kissell won his third consecutive Class AAA Section 1 singles title on April 1, defeating Penn-Trafford's Cullen Price in straight sets.
He received the No. 5 seed for the WPIAL tournament, and opened with a 10-4 victory against North Allegheny's Kylie Isaacs, the No. 12 seed and the only female competitor in the field.
Kissell followed with a 10-6 victory in the quarterfinals against Pine-Richland's Caleb Kramer, the third-place finisher in the 2013 WPIAL Class AAA singles tournament.
That set up a match with top-seeded Mike Santa Lucia of Central Catholic in the semifinals. Santa Lucia earned the top seed by defeating his teammate, defending WPIAL champion Adam Blasinsky, in the Class AAA Section 3 title match the week before.
Santa Lucia came out strong, taking the first set, 6-3. But Kissell got a late break to win the second set, 7-5, and then took the final set in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (7-4), to advance to his first WPIAL final.
"Obviously, Mike is a great player, and I came out and I didn't play my best," Kissell said. "But I just said to myself that I just have to keep on fighting. I just 'grinded' that match out in three sets."
In the championship April 8 at Bethel Park, Kissell met Blasinsky, who knocked out Kissell in the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, 10-2.
But the two had split two matches since then, and Kissell played Blasinsky even most of the match last Tuesday.
But Blaskinsky seemed to play his best when he was trailing, overcoming a 2-1 deficit in the first set and a 5-4 deficit in the second to win, 6-2, 7-5.
"Chad is an excellent player; he's a fighter," Blasinsky said.
Kissell will try to fight his way through the PIAA Class AAA bracket in May. While it will be his first time playing at the state tournament in Hershey, he is familiar with the event. Two of his older sisters, Michaela and Joelle, won PIAA Class AAA girls singles titles, with Michaela winning three in a row from 2003-05.
Chad Kissell was in attendance to watch his sisters succeed.
"They'll probably tell me a few things -- they got quite the experience up there," Kissell said. "I went all the time to watch them and I know every player in it is a good player, so there's no easy matches.
"You just have to be prepared."