Justin Gruver and Michael Pagnanelli weren’t in real trouble, at least not yet. But after a season of near misses, New Oxford boys’ tennis head coach Travis Martin was happy to see his top doubles tandem work through minor adversity before getting into the deep stuff.
Last week, the Colonials learned they missed the District 3 Class 3A Team Championships by .002 points in the power rankings. Then Gruver got knocked out of the YAIAA singles tournament in the quarterfinals after making an appearance in the district tournament in his junior year.
On the first day of the YAIAA 3A Doubles Tournament, Gruver and Pagnanelli came out the 6-4, 6-4 victory in a topsy-turvy matchup with Dallastown’s Jack Lynam and Cameron Koons. When play resumes at 2 p.m. today at South Western, the Colonials need one more win to earn an automatic bid to districts.
“It just felt like it would be the worst thing to have this team that’s been together for so long and not have a chance for advancement,” Martin said. “Our guys were crushed missing districts, but not at all by our record (12-4). There were some tremendous teams ahead of us, so we’re at peace.”
Gettysburg’s top doubles team, Drew Heinzelmann and Kwaku Baryeh, fell 6-2, 6-2 to the top seed in the tournament, Dallastown’s Jonathan Burns and Sebastian May.
Though they were Dallstown’s third-best doubles team in the tournament, the duo of Lynam and Koons would not go quietly. The Colonials were the first team to break serve, doing so in the last game to win the first set. After taking a 3-0 advantage in the second, the Colonials allowed Dallastown to come all the way back to tie.
It was only the start of the push for a stalemate. A total of 16 deuces, including a match-high nine to break the 3-3 tie, made the last four games of the evening take nearly an hour to finish.
Gruver struggled with his serve, earning one double fault in each of the last six attempts to break deuce. The Colonials found a way to persevere, anyway.
Pagnanelli cut off a pair of would-be scoring shots at the net with a backhand spike and Gruver hustled to save shots that had narrowly slipped past his front man. He also clinched the game point with a shot from the baseline that spun off the white line on the left side of the court for a winner.
“We had to keep focusing on the next point. I knew my serve was off, but if I hit a good one here and there, it would be unreturnable for them,” Gruver said. “I knew Mike was great at the net, so I wasn’t worried at all.”
With a 5-4 lead, another run of deuces kept the Colonials scrapping until the end. Gruver put his back to the net to save a lob with a no-look overhead loft that clipped the ribbon on the Dallastown side as it crossed. After three skillful shots for each side, the Wildcats took the point to force a third deuce.
A long shot by Pagnanelli saved the Colonials in the fourth and Gruver cut off a scoring shot in the fifth for another save. Finally on game point in the sixth deuce, Gruver sliced a shot down the right sideline where the Wildcats couldn’t return it safely for the win.
“Their maturity level is even better than it has been in the past,” Martin said of the third-year combination. “Their play at the net is a lot better than it’s been in the past and they’re trusting each other.”
Pagnanelli and Gruver placed fourth a year ago, but were in the thick of their third-place match before Gruver had to come off the court with heat exhaustion. On a breezy, overcast, 60-degree afternoon on Monday, that was their last concern.
“I was just glad to have a good quarterfinal match to prepare us for the semis tomorrow,” Gruver said. “Last year we didn’t have a good quarterfinal match and were not prepared for the level of play in the semis.”
Gettysburg’s Heinzelmann and Baryeh survived a 6-2, 7-5 match with Central Yorks’ Alex Arrow and Michael Gillard, but didn’t have a whole lot of answers for Dallastown’s best.
Baryeh is one of three seniors from the starting lineup that will graduate at the end of the season.
“It’s sad when you lose your last one, but we fought our hardest,” he said.
Like the Colonials, Baryeh and Heinzelmann have been teammates for three seasons. They’ve improved their chemistry and worked out hand signals to covertly adjust their strategy within a season.
The methodical Heinzelmann has been one of the most consistent of the Warriors since joining the team as a freshman. Baryeh, the team’s hype man, brings the energy.
“I have a playlist we listen to before,” Baryeh said. “When I come on the court, I try to intimidate the other players with loud shots.”
The Warriors returned some most of their top talent this season, a gift for first-year coach Dave Yates. Along with Baryeh, David James and Weston Folger will graduate this season.
James and Soren Sijapati won a 6-0, 6-2 first-round match before dropping a 6-2, 6-0 match to Gruver and Pagnanelli. Folger and Lucien Qually also attended the tournament as the first alternate, but were not needed.
“They had fun and that’s what it’s all about,” Yates said. “It didn’t matter what school the kids were from, there was a great feeling of camaraderie at this tournament. It was great to see so many kids out here enjoying the game of tennis.”
The boys appreciated their new coach.
“He brought a lot more game scenarios for us to work through,” Baryeh said. “We did drills where we had second serves only. It really helped me with my problem double faulting this season.”
YAIAA Doubles Tournament
Key: CY-Central York, Dal-Dallastown, Dov-Dover, Get-Gettysburg, NE-Northeastern, NO-New Oxford, RL-Red Lion, SG-Spring Grove, SW-South Western, YS-York Suburban
Villani/Patel (Dal) d. Sidle/Sowers (NE) 6-1, 6-4; Arrow/Gilland (CY) d. Isaac Farmer/Aaron Wampler (NO) 6-2, 6-1; Thompson/Aulthouse (YS) d. Metz/Becker (Dov) 6-1, 7-6 (7-2); Golden/McElwain (NE) d. Brian Klunk/Rohan Rashid (NO) 6-1, 6-0; Damian/Murry (NE) d. Elder/Sommer (CY) 5-7, 6-3, 6-2; Soren Sijapati/David James (Get) d. Ryan Hanson/Mason Neiderer (SW) 6-0, 6-2; Derek Cracium/Alex Guy (SW) d. Gilbert/Huh (YS) 6-4, 6-4; Bell/Kenien (YS) d. Eicholtz/Pantalone (SG) 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-2
1. Burns/S. May (Dal) d. Villani/Patel (Dal) 6-1, 6-1; 6. Drew Heinzelmann/Kwaku Baryeh (Get) d. Arrow/Gilland (CY) 6-1, 7-5; 4. Sanderson/Fries (NE) d. Thompson/Aulthouse (YS) 6-1, 6-1; N. May/Saharan (Dal) d. Golden/McElwain (NE) 6-2, 7-5
8. Lynam/C. Koons (Dal) d. Damian/Murry (NE) 5-7, 6-4, 6-3; 3. Justin Gruver/Michael Pagnanelli (NO) d. Sijapati/James (Get) 6-2, 6-0; 5. Wheeler/Zeidman (RL) d. Cracium/Guy (SW) 6-2, 6-2; 2. Lando/Waterbury (YS) d. Bell/Kenien (YS) 6-0, 6-0
Burns/S. May (Dal) d. Heinzelmann/Baryeh (Get) 6-2, 6-2; Sanderson/Fries (NE) d. N. May/Saharan (Dal) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3; Gruver/Pagnanelli (NO) d. Lynam/C. Koons (Dal) 6-4, 6-4; Lando/Waterbury (YS) d. Wheeler/Zeidman (RL) 2-6, 6-4, 6-3