Juniata duo makes history before falling in state quarterfinals

HERSHEY — The Juniata doubles team of Zach Hemond and Max Lauver continue to make tennis history.

The duo are just the second doubles pair in the area and in program history to win a District 6 championship. They are part of a team that was first from the school to win a District 6 team title in the sport.

Now, you can add winning a state tournament match to the list of never-done-before accolades.

Hemond and Lauver advanced to the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 2A doubles championship before falling to Nick Balaci and Jack Fitzpatrick of Conrad Weiser 6-1, 6-2 at the Hershey Racquet Club on Friday.

In the prelims, they beat the Quaker Valley team of Potter Oliver and Will Sirianni by a 7-5, 6-1 score.

“I can’t say enough about their season. They started out playing singles and they did well enough in singles to take us to a 9-0 regular season and two rounds of districts,” Juniata coach Sheri Landis said. “Without those two boys, the team wouldn’t be as good as we were. To see them play their hearts out at district doubles when we were seeded fourth was fantastic. Winning district doubles was the highlight for them and gave them a chance to come here for states.

“I knew Quaker Valley had a strong team but I felt we had a chance. We knew we had a shot. They did very well.”

Juniata got off to a fast start taking a 5-1 lead on the strength of solid serving, steady baseline play and six double faults by the Quakers. The Indians relaxed a little with the big lead allowing Quaker Valley to get back in it by winning four straight games to tie it at 5-5.

The Indians broke Sirianni’s serve for the 6-5 advantage and then closed things out to take the first set. Juniata came up big in games five and six with both going to multiple deuce points. Game six alone produced six points in deuce. Game five of the first set went to Juniata thanks to a double fault and game six ended on a nice passing shot by Hemond.

“They were a tough team. We had to keep them away from the net. We lost focus a little in the first set but in the second we beat them pretty good,” Hemond said. “It feels real good to get a win here.”

Juniata got its groove back in the second set, thanks to the serve of Lauver and the net presence of Hemond. The duo stymied Quaker Valley with 11 of the first 13 points scored in the set.

The Indians went on cruise control the rest of the way. Typical of the kind of match the Quakers had, Juniata won set two and match point thanks to a double fault by the District 7 runners-up. Quaker Valley finished with nine double faults with 21 unforced errors.

“We were full of confidence. After we collapsed in the first set we kept telling ourselves next point, next point. We got through the first set and the second set was a cruiser,” Lauver said. “I was getting my serve in during the second set. I needed to redeem myself after the first set. It feels really good getting the win.”

Conrad Weiser, second in Class 2A team states last week to Pequea Valley, had too much horsepower, especially in its service game, for Juniata to overcome in the quarters.

The Indians won the opening game of the match before the Scouts reeled off six straight to close out the set. The serving of Balaci and Fitzpatrick, along with the heavy pace of their groundstrokes, were the difference in the contest.

Juniata improved its play in the second set, taking Conrad Weiser to deuce in four games of the set. Despite the increased effort, the kick serve of Fitzpatrick caused Hemond and Lauver fits. The Scout senior won five service game with three aces.

“Conrad Weiser has a very deep team and we were having trouble with their serves. That was a little tough for them, but in the second set they were getting better,” Landis said. “If they could play more teams like that, I’m sure we’d see improvement as we went along.”

It was a magical season for Juniata, one that coach Landis hopes will bring more kids out for the sport and perhaps an upgrade to the tennis facilities as well.

“All in all, my goodness, we had a great season. It’s fun to have Juniata tennis on the map. My hopes are that some of these younger kids, junior high age, maybe elementary, will say tennis might be a sport I’d like to try,” Landis said. “If they give that some thought we may have more athletes come out and want to play tennis.”

And hopefully, she said, the school district will reward the team with a much-needed upgrade to the courts.