Eck returns to states, falls in the first round

HERSHEY – Isaac Eck made his second consecutive appearance in the PIAA tennis singles championship on Friday, with another year of experience and competitive play under his belt.

Eck’s first-round matchup was against Luke Phillips, a freshman of Carlynton, and Phillips got the best of Eck from the beginning as the District 6 champion Eck fell 6-4, 6-3.

The Juniata player wasn’t his usual dominant self early, losing the third game of the first set 45-love and falling behind three games to none.

“I saw a bit of a slow start,” Juniata coach Alan Musselman said. “When you get a slow start and your opponent goes up a break or two, it’s hard to come back at this level. It was a matter of expectations or nerves on Isaac’s part. He played well and when you get down, you have the tendency to lines a little bit more than you would normally. It makes it difficult.”

The junior showed his frustration early, finding a light fixture early with a backhand attempt, but he said that didn’t dictate the result.

“I don’t think it really affected me,” Eck said. “Yeah, you get upset but you can’t let that bother you. I don’t think it clouded my vision as far as what I needed to do.”

After falling behind 4-0, Eck took the fifth game to make it 4-1.

Eck couldn’t sustain that momentum early in the sixth game though, narrowly missing the inside line with a shot and finding the net with two straight serves to go down two points to none.

The more experienced player made a move and rallied to a 5-4 deficit and used a nice drop shot to take an advantage in the next game.

The freshman Phillips rebounded to take the set 6-4 and push Eck to the brink of his season.

Musselman wasn’t able to access the court in time to provide any coaching between sets, ahead of Eck’s final set of the season.

“From a strategy standpoint, he’s much better at the net than any player at his age level,” Musselman said. “He probably could have come in to play a little more than to play his opponent on the baseline. That’s the only thing I would have advised if I had the opportunity.”

Overall Eck was pleased with his performance.

“I would have liked to return a little better than I did and make him play more points,” Eck said. “Other than that, I think I played decent, not great, but well enough for this scenario.”

Eck fell behind in the second set 4-1 before the two players traded games to give Phillips the 5-2 lead.

Eck looked to begin his long comeback in the next game, which he dominated to draw to within 5-3.

The players went into deuce and Phillips took the next two points to end the set, match and the junior’s season.

Both Eck and Musselman were impressed by what Musselman called “able competition.”

“He’s very good,” Eck said. “I know him really well. I play other tournaments with him. I don’t think him being a freshman really has anything to do with it. It’s training and how dedicated you are.”

The junior hopes to improve even more in preparation for a potential third trip to the tournament next year.

“I don’t know if everyone has noticed, but he’s grown like a weed in a year’s time,” Musselman said. “He’s going to get bigger and stronger and he’s going to be a very good tennis player.”