West Xtra: Blackhawk a surprising success on the court

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With a team consisting of five seniors in the seven-man starting lineup, Blackhawk's boys tennis team went undefeated in Class AA Section 2 before losing in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs in 2013.

With the majority of last season's lineup gone, Blackhawk was looking at a rebuilding season in 2014. Instead, due to the improvement of its best returning player and the addition of three new players to the team, this season's Cougars surpassed the accomplishments of the 2013 squad.

Blackhawk again went 12-0 in section play and advanced to the WPIAL Class AA semifinals before losing to Sewickley Academy and Valley in successive matches to finish fourth.

"I was actually pleasantly surprised with how well we did this season," Blackhawk coach Nathan Lowery said. "When you lose five of seven starters, it doesn't usually bode well for the next season. But our team continued the success of last season's team."

One key for Blackhawk was the play of junior Jonah Cooper. Cooper attends Beaver County Christian School, but is able to play for the Cougars due to a co-op agreement. He played No. 2 singles for the team last season behind Clint Davies, with whom he paired to make the PIAA doubles tournament.

With Davies graduating after last season, the onus was on Cooper to carry the torch for Blackhawk. He delivered, winning both the section singles and doubles tournaments and giving the Cougars an advantage in the majority of their matches at No. 1 singles.

"When he's able to consistently win at No. 1 singles, then from a mathematical standpoint we only need to win two of the other four matches, whereas the other team has to win three of the four," Lowery said. "It's a big advantage for us to have him."

Blackhawk's other returning starter was Tyler Petti, who played No. 2 doubles last season but was on the Cougars' No. 1 doubles team this season with Kyle O'Hara.

O'Hara is a senior, but was one of three players in his first year in the Cougars' tennis program. Kyle Schaefer, who led Blackhawk's hockey team in points this season, came out for the tennis team for the first time this spring and played No. 2 doubles with Anthony Miles. Jared Boggs, a senior who attends Beaver County Christian School with Cooper, also played for the Cougars for the first time in 2014.

Boggs, who plays No. 3 singles, paired with Cooper to win the section doubles title. The team's other starter was sophomore Jake Belcastro, who didn't see any playing time on last season's senior-laden team, but played No. 2 singles for the Cougars this season.

"A key for us is we had several good athletes come out for the team," Lowery said. "When you lose so many starters, that's a lot of spots to fill, but the guys who filled those spots had the skills to be successful."

Blackhawk's perfect section record earned the team the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL playoffs, where the Cougars won their first two matches, 3-2, against Burrell and Southmoreland.

That set up a matchup with 10-time defending WPIAL champion Sewickley Academy, which swept Blackhawk, 5-0.

The loss sent the Cougars into the consolation match against Valley, with the winner grabbing the final PIAA tournament berth. In the end, Valley was too strong and beat the Cougars, 5-0.

"[Our players] were disappointed, but we were realistic," Lowery said. "We recognized Valley was just a better team. We played well and we played hard, but Valley was just more skilled.

"So I think our guys were realistic and having a team with five new starters, we're pleased with how far we went."


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