West/North Xtra: Sewickley twosome upholds tennis tradition

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Sewickley Academy's Ryan Gex and Luke Vith only played together for a few matches prior to the Class AA Section 3 doubles tournament.

But last week, the duo carried on the Panthers' doubles district championship tradition.

After winning the Section 3 championship against Winchester' Thurston's Charlie Orr and Max Pollack on April 23, Gex and Vith defeated Orr and Pollack again last week, 6-4, 6-0, to win the WPIAL Class AA doubles title.

"It's definitely something I've wanted to do the past three years," said Vith, a senior. "It's special, especially for Ryan, who's just a freshman. I've won WPIAL team championships, but it's nice to get the individual title, too."

Gex and Vith, who are both from Sewickley, became the fifth consecutive doubles team for the Panthers to win the district title, and ninth in 13 years. Sewickley Academy has also had five runner-up finishes during that time.

Both Gex and Vith credited their coach, Whitney Snyder, for the program's success in doubles. Snyder has also coached the past three WPIAL Class AA girls doubles champions.

"I think it's because of Coach [Snyder]," Gex said. "He's really helped us. He really works to put together the doubles teams and to teach us the fundamentals. He also has us compete against [Class AAA] schools such as Upper St. Clair and Shady Side Academy, as well as the toughest teams in our section like Mars, which prepares us to play against the toughest competition."

Sewickley had to replace four of its top five players last season, including Will Kleeman, who was a part of the past three WPIAL doubles champions. So Snyder mixed and matched his lineup for much of the season to try to find out who would play singles and also who would be paired together in doubles.

Eventually, he settled on Gex and Vith playing together at No. 1 doubles. Gex had only played doubles a few times at USTA tournaments, while Vith played No. 2 doubles for the Panthers last season.

"We had an extensive round robin, where everyone played with everyone," Snyder said. "I wanted to see if Player A had chemistry with Player B. A lot of times singles players don't jell in doubles, or two players' personalities clash."

The pair's games complement each other well. Vith's strength is at the net, where he can use his 6-foot-5 frame. At 5-7, Gex's strength, meanwhile, is on the baseline.

"He's a singles player, so he can get in these long rallies and I know he's going to get anything back over the net and I'm going to finish any volleys at the net," Vith said.

The duo didn't lose a set in the section tournament, defeating Orr and Pollack, 7-5, 6-1, in the championship match.

They were seeded No. 1 for the WPIAL tournament, and after receiving a first-round bye, won their first match against Seton-LaSalle's Mike Wilke and Justin Nedzevsky, 10-1, in a pro set.

That set up a semifinal matchup against Gex and Vith's teammates, Dan McCormick and Andrew Parda. Gex and Vith were too strong, however, winning, 6-3, 6-3.

"When we saw the draw, we saw it was a possibility we would play each other," Vith said. "We've played a lot against each other and we're good friends, but when the match started, we all wanted to win. Afterward though, they were happy for us and we were happy that they are going to be joining us at states."

McCormick and Parda bounced back to take third place and secure the final state qualifying spot, while Gex and Vith defeated Orr and Pollack again to win the WPIAL title.

The six extra matches Gex and Vith got with each other during sections and WPIALs should also benefit the team as it goes for its 11th consecutive WPIAL team title this season.

"You definitely have to learn how to play with pressure and we've gotten experience with that at section and WPIAL [doubles]," Vith said. "It'll only help when the matches get tougher."


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