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IMG_8499BY JEFF FALK

MOUNT GRETNA – It wasn’t like Mike Lesko was some sort of nomadic hired gun who blew into town looking for a game, because he had heard Lebanon County was so proficient at tennis, the tournament was so competitive and well run and the venue was simply perfect for its staging.

No, it wasn’t anything like that at all. But it could’ve been.

On Thursday evening, unseeded outsider Lesko earned the singles’ championship of Lebanon County’s biggest summer tennis tournament – the 48th annual Mount Gretna Tennis Club’s – by dispensing teenage prodigy Jack Muraika 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 in the finals. After the 14-year-old Muriaka had jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first set, Lesko, who was competing in the iconic event for the first time, won 12 of the next 14 games.

IMG_8637Lesko emerged with the championship trophy from the week-long, 48-player singles’ draw, one that was populated with some of Lebanon County’s – and beyond – finest players, past and present. None of the seeded singles’ players – 1. Dave Wolfe, 2. Ben Smith, 3. Adam Behney, 4. Colin Muraika – reached the finals.

Then in a doubles’ championship marathon under the lights, C. Muraika and Galen McNaughton outlasted Steve Hass and Paul Elliot, 2-6, 7-6, (7-3), 6-3.

The locale is coming off a 2014-15 school year which was one of its most successful in the history of the sport. But the Mount Gretna Tennis Club tournament is the last remaining link to a past when multiple tournaments made tennis one of Lebanon County’s great summer past times.

“It’s cool,” said Lesko, a 23-year-old former college player at Shepherd University in West Virginia, who recently moved to the area for his job. “I’ve played a lot of tournaments. But this one, with the atmosphere, with the food, with the locals coming out and watching, I like it a lot. I like having more people watching. This was probably one of the most fun tournaments I’ve ever played in.

IMG_8526“I asked a couple of my college coaches if they knew of any tournaments in the area,” continued Lesko. “And they forwarded me an email from (tournament director, Mike) Mr. Rohrbach. I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll play’. That’s how I ended up here. It was a blast.”

“It’s a great venue for tennis, for sports,” said Rohrbach. “This is kind of the only big tournament left in the county. And Gretna is a great place to get away. It’s old friends getting together. It’s people reminiscing about tennis. It’s people meeting each other and connecting over tennis. It’s everything good about sports, in a beautiful social setting.

“This year it was stronger than ever,” Rohrbach continued. “We were basically maxed out (with 48 singles players and 22 doubles teams). I can remember during the early to mid 80s when there were crowds of hundreds out here. It’s a team effort. The courts are playing great. The grounds were redone. A lot of high school kids have been re-introduced to Gretna, and they keep coming back. And younger players like Jack Muraika want to be a part of it.”

The early portions of the championship match were all about Muraika, who had to play into the draw of 32.

IMG_8534With both players content to trade ground strokes from the baseline, and each on serve through three games, Muriaka came up with a service break in the fourth, and then held serve for a 4-1 advantage.

“I’ve always, always had slow starts,” said Lesko. “If I don’t have a good, 30-minute warm-up, I start slow. Once I’m in a rhythm, I’m good. Him taking the ball early was giving me some problems.

“I just kind of knew it (playing from the baseline) was going to happen,” added Lesko. “This is a slow surface. I knew from the first couple of games it had to be on my terms, or he was going to pass me. I knew he wasn’t going to come to the net a lot.”

“We had our deepest draw in years,” said Rohrbach, who coaches tennis and teaches at Cedar Crest. “Dave Wolfe was the defending champion. We had the District Three Class AAA champion (C. Muraika). The two Elco state champions (Adam Behney and Galen McNaughton). The Elizabethtown College head coach. Steve Hass, who hadn’t played in 25 years.

IMG_8550“The young kids keep getting better,” Rohrbach added. “None of the six seeds made a final. Mike (Lesko) was a little bit of an unknown. And Jack got on a great tennis roll.”

Something clicked for Lesko in the middle of the first set. He sandwiched a service break in Game Seven around a couple of ‘holds’ to forge a four-all tie.

From there, both players held serve to set up the tiebreaker, one that went Lesko’s way, 7-3.

“Things did not go good early,” said Lesko. “I like hitting heavy forehands, heavy backhands and heavy top-spin. Once I got into a groove, I felt good. I just had to settle down a little bit. It was important to stay strong and raise my game just a little bit.

“Winning the tiebreaker was key,” continued Lesko. “If I lose the first set, there’s a letdown. When it got to 3-0 in the second set, I just thought ‘stay strong’. And I began to think I was going to win it.”

IMG_8688With momentum now clearly on his side, Lesko swept through the second set. Try as he may, Muraika just couldn’t swing it back to his side of the court.

“He’s really good,” said Lesko of Muraika. “He’s steady off the baseline. He moves really well. He plays great defense.

“All the guys I played were really solid players,” Lesko continued. “I couldn’t just show up and not play well. I felt like when I was stepping in and taking balls early that I played my best.”

“It’s like any sport right now. There’s so many options for kids,” said Rohrbach, who was running the event for the sixth year. “But Lebanon County just produced a state champion and a district champion. A small county with no indoor facility. There’s a lot of good tennis being played in Lebanon County. And this is a great place to celebrate it and promote it.”

IMG_8515During the seesaw, back-and-forth doubles’ final, C. Muriaka and McNaughton completed their rally by capturing the last three games of the final set. After opening with a break of service, C. Muraika-McNaughton gained control of the decisive set by winning the fourth and fifth games, to establish a 3-2 advantage.

C. Muriaka-McNaughton had forced the third by taking a second-set tiebreaker, after establishing a 4-3 edge midway through it.

The opening set was all Hass-Elliot, after the veteran tandem captured five of the match’s first six games.

To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com, or to see more go to www.http://lebanonsportsbuzz.com/gallery-nine/.

Mount Gretna Tennis Club Tournament

Past Singles’ Champions

2015- Mike Lesko

2014 – Dave Wolfe

2013 – Eric Weitzel

IMG_86522012 – Eric Weitzel

2011 – Mike Rohrbach

2010 – Nick Bybel

2009 – Erik Vargo

2008 – Chris Heilman

2007 – Erik Vargo

2006 – Erik Vargo

2005 – Chris Heilman

2004 – Mike Rohrbach

2003 – Mike Rohrbach

IMG_86722002 – Mike Rohrbach

2001 – Mike Rohrbach

200o – Mike Rohrbach

1999 – Cancelled, drought

1998 – Dave Wolfe

1997 – Dave Wolfe

1996 – Andy Folmer

1995 – Matt Garman

IMG_85171994 – Cliff Meyers

1993 – Andy Folmer

1992 – Tom Brink

1991 – Andy Folmer

1990 – Tom Brink

1989 – Mark Moshos

1988 – Mark Moshos

1987 – Mark Moshos

1986 – Mark Moshos

1985 – Steve Hass

IMG_85061984 – Steve Hass

1983 – Mark Moshos

1982 – Mark Moshos

1981 – Andy Folmer

1980 – Cliff Loercher

1979 – Cliff Loercher

1978 – Cliff Meyers

1977 – Cliff Meyers

1976 – Cliff Meyers

1975 – Cliff Meyers

IMG_84921974 – Cliff Meyers

1973 – Sam Miller

1972 – Sam Miller

1971 – Sam Miller

1970 – Sam Miller

1969 – Sam Miller

1968 – Sam Miller

 Mount Gretna Tennis Club

 Past Doubles’ Champions

IMG_86052015 – C. Muraika-G. McNaughton

2014 – A. Behney-T. Deimler

2013 – M. Rohrbach-R. Gallo

2012 – M. Rohrbach-R. Gallo

2011 – M. Rohrbach-R. Gallo

2010 – M. Rohrbach-M. Zimmerman

2009 – M. Rohrbach-E. Vargo

2008 – C. Heilman-M. Bender

2007 – M. Rohrbach-E. Vargo

2006 – E. Vargo-N. Slachta

IMG_85542005 – M. Rohrbach-P. Rader

2004 – M. Rohrbach-P. Rader

2003 – A. Folmer-J. Montgomery

2002 – M. Rohrbach-T. Bixler

2001 – M. Rohrbach-T. Bixler

2000 – S. Miller-B. Hulme

1999 – Drought, cancelled

1998 – D. Wolfe-M. Garman

1997 – M. Garman-E. Provencio

1996 – M. Garman-E. Provencio

IMG_86681995 – S. Miller-B. Hulme

1994 – S. Miller-B. Hulme

1993 – C. Meyers-A. Folmer

1992 – T. Brink-E. Weaver

1991 – T. Brink-E. Weaver

1990 – T. Brink-E. Weaver

1989 – C. Meyers-A. Folmer

1988 – T. Brink-E. Weaver

1987 – S. Hass-M. Moshos

1986 – S. Hass-M. Moshos

IMG_86291985 – S. Hass-M. Moshos

1984 – C. Meyers-A. Folmer

1983 – S. Hass-M. Moshos

1982 – C. Meyers-A. Folmer

1981 – D. Royer-M. Moshos

1980 – R. Early-M. Moshos

1979 – D. Royer-B. Loercher

1978 – C. Meyers-L. Kreider

1977 – D. Royer-B. Loercher

1976 – D. Royer-J. Davis

1975 – S. Miller-L. Kreider

1974 – S. Miller-L. Kreider

1973 – S. Miller-B. Berman

1972 – S. Miller-B. Loercher

1971 – S. Miller-B. Loercher

1970 – S. Miller-B. Loercher

1969 – S. Miller-B. Loercher

1968 – S. Miller-B. Loercher

 

 

 

One thought on “Everyone Loves Gretna Tennis; Some – Like Mike Lesko – More Than Others

  1. Great story on a storied Tournament. You’re still covering tennis like a pro. Enjoyed your reporting on one more Gretna tennis tournment. An added note to the event, simply there are no other open amateur tennis tournaments like it where anyone can enter. As you might know, amateur U.S.T.A. events are by age and costly, so the Gretna green clay event (slow and great on the joints) is unique, and draws entries of all ages and experiences from throughout the mid-state. Also, congratulations to Mike for recruiting a great draw each year.

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