Juniata ace falls in states

HERSHEY Juniata’s Isaac Eck had a new experience of sorts at Friday’s PIAA Class AA tennis championships.

Last season, Eck and teammate Logan Aurand competed in the state doubles tournament, but Eck failed to qualify for the singles tournament when he took District 6 silver to Westmont Hilltop’s Parag Dharbhamulla.

But this year, the sophomore made his way through the district tournament to the top of the medal stand, punching his ticket to the singles state tournament where either the thrill of each victory or the weight of each defeat would rest solely on his shoulders.

And in the end, Eck got to experience both scenarios.

In his first round match Eck dispatched Bentworth’s Matt Lynch in straight sets to catapult into the quarterfinals, where he ran into a brick wall against Northwestern Lehigh’s Henry Paiste.

Paiste, who lost out in last year’s quarterfinals to eventual winner Kyle Seelig and who was coming off his third-straight District 11 title, proved to be too much for Eck as he topped him in straight sets for the 6-1, 6-3 victory.

From the start of the quarterfinal match, Paiste’s high-velocity serve gave Eck trouble and his good ball placement kept Eck racing back and forth on the baseline. However, by the time the second set rolled around, Eck had begun to find his groove as he increased accuracy on his returns and started to take advantage of the success he was having playing closer to the net.

This proved crucial in the final game of the match, as Eck trailed Paiste 5-3 but had begun to unravel Paiste’s rhymes enough by that point to make the match difficult to put away.

The two battled back and forth with the lead until Eck came back from a 40-30 deficit to put it at 40-40, but hit two into the net during the following two volleys to give Paiste his second set for the win.

“His serve kept me off balance the majority of the time always on the defensive,” Eck said, and his coach Alan Musselman also agreed that Paiste’s serve was a major factor in the match.

“Isaac played well after the first set. He came close but couldn’t break (Paiste’s) serve. If you can’t break the serve, you’re not going to get there,” Musselman said.

The loss ended Eck’s season, and while there is always disappointment that accompanies elimination, Eck can take home the fact that it was an exciting ride getting to that point.

In the first round, Eck blanked fellow home schooler Lynch of Bentworth 6-0 to easily put away the first set, but Lynch came back firing in the second set.

With the 3-2 lead in the second set, Eck lost the sixth game to Lynch a loss that was noteworthy because it was the first time all day Eck had lost while serving.

Previously, Eck had kept Lynch off balance with his serve, but the Bentworth junior had found a small foothold, and took it all the way to a tiebreaker, which Eck eventually won, 7-5.

But although Lynch had started to find his groove, Eck was not about to be put away. In the final game of the set, Lynch had Eck on the ropes 40-love, but Eck fought his way back to win the game for a 6-6 tie, driving the two competitors into a tiebreaker.

Eck was quick to describe the comeback from 40-love as a clutch moment, and he certainly was justified in doing so. In the second set Lynch’s backhand started to come through strong and he was improving his ball placement, but Eck said he was never nervous.

“I wasn’t nervous because I felt like I was still playing well, and he just stepped up his game,” he said.

The sophomore says he hopes to return to states a make a deeper run into the tournament next year, and Musselman also seems optimistic about his chances of doing so.

“Next year I’m hoping to make it to states and make it one step further to the finals. That’s the goal, anyway,” Eck said.