All season long, Shady Side Academy coach Tom Mercer preached that his team's biggest strength was its depth.
In the PIAA Class AAA tournament last week, the Indians proved their coach correct.
The Indians' two doubles teams and their No. 3 singles player, Eric Grubbs, all went undefeated in the state tournament to help Shady Side Academy win its first state championship since 2004.
"I think our team is pretty even one through seven," Mercer said. "I think it's really close in level of play. So it just felt like our second doubles up through the lineup is strongest."
The Indians have talent at the top of their lineup in Cooper Kann, a WPIAL singles qualifier this season, and Derek Chen, who transferred to Shady Side Academy after winning the WPIAL Class AA singles title last season at Vincentian.
But dating back to the WPIAL semifinals, the duo went a combined 3-8 in six team matches (Chen did not complete his match against Lower Merion because the team result had already been decided).
Luckily the bottom of the Indians' lineup came up with some big wins along the way.
In the PIAA quarterfinals, Shady Side Academy matched up with Lower Merion, the District 1 runner-up that split a pair of matches with district champion Conestoga, which had won the past three state titles.
Lower Merion got a straight-set win from junior Simon Vernier, the No. 8-ranked junior in the state according to tennisrecruiting.net, at No. 1 singles, while the Indians' No. 2 doubles team of Naveen Jain and Henry Cohen also won in straight sets.
Meanwhile, the other three matches went into three sets. Grubbs made it 2-1 with a win at No. 3 singles and his brother, three-time WPIAL doubles champion Chris Grubbs, notched a 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory at No. 1 doubles with his partner, Michael Kann, to clinch the match.
Chen was tied at 3 in the third set at the time.
"Lower Merion I think may have been a better team [than Conestoga]," Mercer said. "They have a good first doubles team and battled us for three sets. If we don't win there, we may not get to the finals."
Shady Side had an easier time in the semifinals, losing at first singles but winning in straight sets at No. 2 and No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles. The Indians were also up a set and leading in the second set at No. 2 doubles.
But the championship match was a struggle. Conestoga had beaten the Indians in the state title match each of the previous two seasons and returned five of its seven starters from the 2013 championship team.
The Indians, meanwhile, returned six starters, with Chen replacing last season's No. 1 player, Alok Nimgaonkar, in the lineup.
Brian Grodecki, a two-time state singles qualifier, and Eric Yen notched straight-set victories for Conestoga at No. 1 and No. 2 singles.
But Eric Grubbs defeated Mike Blank, 6-1, 6-3, at No. 3 singles, which meant all Shady Side Academy needed was for its doubles squads to do what they had done every match this season -- sweep the two doubles points.
Chris Grubbs and Michael Kann beat Conestoga's Steve Yang and Nick Ruth, 6-2, 6-4, so the match came down to No. 2 doubles, which was a rematch of the No. 2 doubles match in last season's state final, which Cohen and Jain won in straight sets against Ryan Swope and Max Howarth.
But this time, the two teams split the first two sets and Conestoga's pair led, 3-1, in the deciding set. Cohen and Jain were too strong down the stretch, however, winning the final five games to give the Indians boys program its second state title.
"It was definitely nice to beat the same team that beat us the past two seasons," Mercer said. "It felt good to beat the top three teams from Philly. The draw is tough, but we got through it."
Sewickley falls short
Like Shady Side Academy, Sewickley Academy was looking for its second state title and was facing a perennial powerhouse.
But unlike the Indians, the Panthers couldn't quite pull out the win.
Wyomissing won its fifth PIAA Class AA boys tennis title in six years by defeating Sewickley Academy, 3-2, Saturday in Hershey.
The Panthers two wins came in doubles and the matches weren't completed, as Wyomissing had already clinched its title with three singles wins.
The Panthers have won 11 consecutive WPIAL Class AA titles, but their only state title during that time came in 2006.
The Panthers will have five players heading back to Hershey this weekend for the PIAA singles and doubles tournaments -- WPIAL Class AA singles champion Luke Ross, WPIAL Class AA doubles champions Ryan Gex and Luke Vith and WPIAL Class AA doubles third-place finishers Danny McCormick and Andrew Parda.