ALTOONA - Juniata Tennis players Isaac Eck and Logan Aurand traveled to the District 6 Class AA singles tournament at the Leopold Rec Center in Altoona on Thursday with big expectations. Both players were able to turn heads as unseeded Aurand made it to the second round.
No. 2 Eck breezed his way to the finals.
Eck's first match came against Brad Carney of Westmont-Hilltop. Although Eck was easily the youngest player at the tournament at the age of 14, once he stepped on the court, he had the presence of a wily veteran as his hard serves, quick returns and charges to the net confused and stopped Carney in his tracks. Eck won in straight sets, 6-0, 6-2.
In the match Eck had 14 winners and and won 78 percent of his first service points. For Juniata coach Alan Musselman it was nice seeing Eck at the top of his game.
"Isaac is truly an all-court player. You could see in his first match that his excellence has returned," Musselman said. " He's playing great at the net, he's playing great with his ground strokes and his first-serve percentage has improved."
Eck kept the Indians alive and improved his game as the tournament went on. In the third round Eck faced Takuya Norisugi of Bishop Guilfoyle, who moved into the third round after a three-set match with Austin Perow of Huntingdon.
Things didn't get any easier for Norisugi as his first service percentage was below 50 percent and he double faulted three times in the match. Eck took full advantage as Norisugi made sure his second serves were in play, leaving Eck to make six unreturned services and seven ground-stroke winners.
Norisugi wore down as the match went on Eck won it 6-1, 6-0. Eck was happy that he was able to put some new things he tried earlier in the week and be successful.
"I've been working on a new grip on my volley to help it go through faster and I think it finally clicked today, which was good." he said.
The win put Eck in the semifinals with Richard Crabtree of Tyrone, whose 6-foot, 1-inch frame towered over Eck. But Eck dominated Crabtree this season, as he beat him twice before Thursday's matchup.
When the match started things didn't change much as Eck was all over Crabtree in the first three games of the first set. Crabtree eventually found some success forcing Eck to rush the net, but eventually Eck was able to counter, hitting some returns that played the lines perfectly, which Crabtree had trouble handling the entire match, Eck once again took his opponent down in straight sets, 6-1, 6-0.
"He was much more consistent, much more positive and made a lot more shots in this match compared to previous ones," Eck said. "But this last match, I think I played the best overall in that match, and I was glad to win."
Aurand's day started in the first-round, in which Eck had a bye, against Zane Clarke of Bishop-Guilfoyle. The match took longer than every other first-round match as both players were evenly matched and hungry. Aurand started off slow but was able to find himself late in the first set to take it 6-3.
The second set was no different as both players were running all over the court and playing every ball like it was their last, but in the end Aurand took the set 6-4. Aurand himself was happy that he worked through his problems to take the set.
"I thought I started out playing the way I've been playing this week, I finally figured out what I've been doing wrong lately, to get more top spin on the ball," Aurand said. "I kinda got away from that and started getting into old habits as the match went on, but I was able to pull out the match."
Indians tennis coach Alan Musselman was proud that Aurand kept his composure and focus throughout a very tough match
"He did very well, it really was a matter of mental toughness on his part and hanging in there," Musselman said. "They had some really long exchanges and that ball was going back and forth a lot and you just have to keep your patience and stay focused and have that kind of mental toughness that gets you through a close match. The game was more of a slog, it was a very tough match."
In the second round Aurand was locked up with the top seed and three-time district champ Parag Dharbhamulla, and as expected Aurand had no answers for Dharbhamulla's experienced game as Aurand lost 6-0, 6-1, knocking him out of the tournament.
"I would say I was just out matched," Aurand said.
Eck will head back to Altoona on Saturday morning to face Dharbhamulla, who defeated Julian Gallina of Forest Hills 6-1, 7-5 in the other semi. The final begins at 11 a.m.