BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – Ben has seen Jack play, but doesn’t know him personally.
Dylan knows Dylan personally, but hasn’t seen him play.
Adam and Dawson have heard of Max and Adam, but they’ve never met them.
Tim and Ryan have seen Brett and Ryan before, but they don’t know who they are.
Elco has viewed Cedar Crest’s scores, but the Raiders really don’t know what the Falcons are all about.
It’s nice to put names to faces, and personalities to faces. Before we can truly understand each other, we must first become familiarized with one another.
Not all local scholastic sports conduct an event that brings every school in Lebanon County together. But perhaps they should.
On a brilliant Saturday afternoon, the 23rd annual Lebanon County Scholastic Boys’ Tennis Tournament was contested at Cedar Crest High School, and the big winners were – besides the six competing schools and the sport itself – the host Falcons and Cedar Crest sophomore Jack Muriakia.
As a team, the Falcons turned in a repeat performance of last year’s championship, in overwhelming fashion, more than doubling runner-up Elco’s team total, 18-8. Palmyra came in third, followed by Annville-Cleona, Northern Lebanon and Lebanon.
Overall, it was Cedar Crest’s 16th team crown.
As for Muriaka, he captured the Flight One singles championship – and the title of the locale’s top high-schooler that accompanies it – by besting Palmyra freshman Ben Clary, 6-2, 6-2 in the finals. At one point during the middle of the championship match, Muriaka won seven straight games.
“It’s getting the kids from the county together to play tennis,” said Cedar Crest head coach Mike Rohrbach. “It’s getting all of us here and having eight courts all going at the same time. It’s a great event. It helps build camaraderie. I’m glad we do it. One day a year it’s nice to shine the spotlight on kids who normally don’t get it but work hard.
“We have built some history,” continued Rohrbach. “We have built a nice one. It’s kudos to the coaches for making it work. And the more history we build, the more special it becomes, for the teams and the kids who win championships. Whoever’s idea it was to hold this, it was a good one. Not many ideas hold on as long as this one has.”
“It’s nice,” said Muriaka. “It’s an individual tournament, but there’s still a team prize. You try to take care of your match and then root for your teammates. I know a decent amount of these kids. It turned out to be a pretty nice day.”
“It was pretty nice seeing all the schools here,” said Clary, a freshman. “It was just fun playing different schools and different players. It was a good day.”
Muriaka, a hard-hitting tenth-grader who’s undefeated within the Lancaster-Lebanon League, shrugged off a slow start by becoming more active, seeking opportunities and coming to the net.
An early service break gave Clary a 2-1 edge in the opening set. But it would prove to be Clary’s only break of Muriaka’s serve in the match.
Muriaka broke Clary’s serve in the fifth game of the first set, and then again in the seventh, on his way to claiming the initial set 6-2.
“It was only an hour-and-a-half long, but you win matches like that in practice, with hard work, by eating well, throughout the season,” said Muriaka, whose brother Colin collected three County individual crowns. “I knew he (Clary) moved really well. He’s pretty consistent and I came out tense. When it’s windy, you’re not going to have your ‘A’ game. If you don’t have your ‘A’ game, you’ve got to find your ‘B’ game. And if you can’t find your ‘B’ game, you’ve got to find your ‘C’ game.
“I wasn’t in the best mood, but I had to focus,” added Muriaka. “When I got more confidence, I started competing better. I knew I had to move my feet well and I had to get a lot of balls back. I had to stay in rallies and stay in points. When I got a short ball, I tried to cut it off. I thought I did pretty good at that.”
“I knew him,” said Clary of Muriaka. “I knew he was going to be a tough opponent. He came out and played good.
“I was trying to hit it deep,” added Clary. “But I couldn’t do it because he was taking it short and being aggressive.”
“It’s nice for him to get a tournament championship of his own,” said Rohrbach of Muriaka. “It was also nice to see two young guys handling the ball well. He’s (Muriaka) been playing really well.
“Jack works incredibly hard,” Rohrbach continued. “He has a chance to make some noise in the league tournament and districts. It’s paying off. It’s one small trophy which will hopefully lead to bigger ones.”
Muriaka took the first two games of the second set, before Clary held his serve in the third game. But Muriaka rattled off three more games in-a-row to open a 5-1 advantage.
Muriaka had reached the Flight One final by defeating Mason Bennetch of Elco 6-0, 6-2 in the semifinals.
“I knew Colin won three years in-a-row, but I didn’t really think about that,” said Muriaka. “I just tried to go out and focus and play well. He (Clary) gets to a lot of balls. He extends a lot of points, so you’ve just got to keep your feet moving.
“Last year, we didn’t get to team districts,” continued Muriaka. “I’d really like to get there this year and see how we can do.”
“I played decent,” said Clary. “He was just the better player. He played very aggressive. He played a lot of top spin.
“I’ll come back next year and see if I can finish first,” Clary added. “I just have to work harder.”
“It could be fun to watch their rivalry develop,” said Rohrbach of Muriaka and Clary. “Between the three of them (Muriaka, Clary and Dylan Tull), there’s going to be some special talent for the next few years. The young talent in the county is awesome.”
Speaking of Tull, he captured the Flight Two Singles championship with relative ease. Tull whitewashed Elco’s Dylan Spitler 6-0, 6-0 in their title match.
In the Flight One Doubles competition, Raiders Adam Omar and Dawson Smith nudged Max Mesaros and Adam Brightbill of Cedar Crest, 6-3, 7-5 in the final match. Before copping the final two games, Omar and Smith had enjoyed 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4 edges earlier in the second set.
The top prize in the Flight Two doubles bracket went to the Cedar Crest team of Tim Cheng and Ryan Knapp. Knapp and Cheng dusted Brett Bohannon and Ryan Woelfing of Elco, 6-3, 6-3 in the championship bout.
“That was a great win,” said Rohrbach of Cedar Crest’s overall effort. “Coming into today, I thought we had a great chance to win at One and Two (singles). I knew we had a good chance with Dylan at Two. We’ve got a young team. To have the success we did, I’m happy, but a little surprised. The guys played well today.”
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1995: Cedar Crest
1996: Cedar Crest
1997: Cedar Crest
1998: Cedar Crest
1999: Annville-Cleona/ Palmyra
2001: Cedar Crest
2006: Cedar Crest
2007: Cedar Crest
2008: Cedar Crest
2009: Cedar Crest
2010: Cedar Crest
2011: Cedar Crest
2012: Cedar Crest
2014: Elco, Cedar Crest
2015: Elco, Cedar Crest
2016: Cedar Crest
2017: Cedar Crest
Flight One Champions
1995: Ben Andreozzi -CC
1996: Dave Wolfe-CC
1997: Johnny Oh-CC
1998: Brock Hoover- ELCO
1999: Brock Hoover -ELCO
2000: Stanley Kahl -ELCO
2001: Stanley Kahl -ELCO
2002: Brent Kahl -ELCO
2003: Stanley Kahl -ELCO
2004: Brent Kahl – ELCO
2005: Brent Kahl -ELCO
2006: Matt Grodzinski -NL
2007: Brad Wolfson -CC
2008: Steven Kurban -CC
2009: Weston Fortna -CC
2010: Weston Fortna – CC
2011: Weston Fortna – CC
2012: Weston Fortna – CC
2013: Colin Muriaka – CC
2014: Colin Muriaka – CC
2015: Colin Muriaka – CC
2016: Nick Tull – CC
2017: Jackson Muriaka – CC