BY JEFF FALK
You’ve got to love it when a plan comes together. Rare are the occasions when things work out exactly the way we intended them to, especially in scholastic athletics.
The Cedar Crest Falcons scripted the perfect boys’ tennis season this spring. And their execution in pulling it off was nearly flawless.
Cedar Crest truly enjoyed a magical campaign for the ages. In short, the Falcons just made memories.
“I think we lived up to our abilities,” said Cedar Crest head coach Mike Rohrbach. “It’s tough to over-achieve when you have a group of seniors who already achieved so much. Over-achieving would’ve been winning a state championship.
“It’s a lot tougher to live up to goals than you think,” Rohrbach continued. “So many things can happen. Injuries, grades, other circumstances. It’s (reaching goals) probably tougher than over-achieving. When you have pressure and it’s your last chance to do some great thing, it’s tough to do them.”
“We had one of the most successful seasons in school history,” said Falcon leading man and senior Weston Fortna. “It was great. It was fun. It was definitely a season to look back on and remember.”
After finishing the regular season second to Hempfield in Section One, the highlight of Cedar Crest’s season was their first Lancaster-Lebanon league championship. While that may have been the highest-of-lights for the Falcons, it wasn’t the only one.
Cedar Crest also reached the District Three Class AAA team final. Before losing to eventual state champ Conestoga, the Falcons defeated Delaware Valley in the opening round of the PIAA tournament.
Overall, Cedar Crest went 16-3, and in those matches the Falcons were 80-15 as a team.
“The thing that really jumps out is the league championship,” said Rohrbach. “When you get to hand a banner, that’s got to be the most impressive accomplishment. That was the first time any Lebanon County has won a league championship.
“We were very steady in the beginning of the season,” continued Rohrbach. “Hempfield kind of cleaned our clock the first time we played them. But it was like a wake-up call. The day after we lost to Hempfield, if we hadn’t beaten Manheim Township, we wouldn’t have had those (postseason) opportunities. At the end, we were playing our best tennis. There was definitely a peaking.”
“We had expectations of going to states,” said Fortna. “Winning the league title was over our expectations. We did acheive our goals, and over-achieve in a way.
“Coming in, we definitely wanted to have a winning season,” Fortna continued. “We wanted to win the county tournament. At leagues, we wanted to finish first or second to go to districts. We worked really hard to get there, and we did.”
Comparisons are always difficult. But saying that the Falcons enjoyed one of the most succesful seasons in the history of Lebanon County boys’ tennis certainly wouldn’t be a stretch of any sort.
“This was such a unique, magical year,” said Rohrbach. “Every season is different. Goals are different. Kids are different. It’s tough to compare it to anything. This group as sophomores played well. How we related to each other, the academic success we had, that’s what made it incredible. What I’ll remember is how much fun this group was.
“I just wanted to have a chance at winning a championship, at the league and district level,” added Rohrbach. “And we won one. I wanted to have some sort of championship for those kids to have and remember. We wanted to get there first, play well and hopefully things fall your way.”
So exactly how did the Falcons pull it off? Senior leadership and experience. The largest team by numbers that they’ve ever had. Chemistry. Talent. And dogged determination.
“It’s really two major reasons,” said Rohrbach. “First, we had a kid like Weston Fortna, who was one of the two or three best players to ever come through Lebanon County. He’s a legitimate number one player. The other reason we were successful was our depth, combined with experience. Guys like Colin Muraika, Ryan Zinn, Alex Koltrun and Henry Overholt really stepped up.”
“The main thing was comraderie,” said Fortna. “We grew up together. We got along very well. We always supported each other. That was the key to our success.”
The success that the Falcons enjoyed on the court as a team mirrored the achievements Fortna experienced as an individual. What Fortna made tough to decipher were the blurred lines between cause and effect, and the whole and its parts.
“The correlation is extremely high,” said Rohrbach. “The most impressive thing about Weston was his sustained level of excellence. He made the semifinals of the league tournament all four years and made it to the finals twice. He has been, from his freshman to senior year, excellent. The high level he has maintained for four years is most impressive.
“There’s kids in the league who have one or two incredible years,” added Rohrbach. “Weston had four incredible years.”
“Even though I was playing individually, the team really came out to support me,” said Fortna. “That really helps. Without the support, I wouldn’t have had the success I had.
“I think playing for the team was more fun because I was playing next to my friends and class mates,” added Fortna. “When I’m playing as an individual, I’m playing alone. I’m lonely.”
Fortna won the singles title at the Lebanon County tournament for a record fourth time this season, then finished second as an individual at the Lancaster-Lebanon League event, after tweaking his knee in the final match. He rebounded to win the District Three Class AAA singles championship, before dropping his opener in the state tournament.
“I’d say it was unbelievable,” said Fortna, who will pursue an athletic and academic career at the Coast Guard Academy. “It was basically everything I wanted it to be. To win districts was a great accomplishment. It was a fun journey.
“My main goal was to get to states again,” Fortna continued. “It just turned out to be a great senior season. I felt like I achieved everything I could.”
“The fun thing is trying to place him in the right spot in Lebanon County history,” said Rohrbach. “The first guy you think about is (Elco’s) Stanley Kahl, because he won a state championship. And Steve Yedinak (of Cedar Crest) comes to mind. Then after those two guys you’re looking at Weston. Maybe he and Matt Garman are at the same level.”
What allowed Fortna to ascend into the company of such all-time players was his mental make-up.
“The best part about Weston is that he’s a player who doesn’t necessarily show his emotions,” said Rohrbach. “He’s very even-keeled, and that allowed him to play at a high level for so long. It’s almost like watching a college kid play at the high school level, with his mental game.
“You wonder where it comes from, because you’d like to bottle it up and give it to everybody else,” Rohrbach continued. “His comes from his parents. They’re parents who focus on the right things. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a little bit of him and his own personality.”
“Yeah, I think it’s (mental toughness) something I had,” said Fortna. “It’s something I kind of developed over the years. When I was a freshman I didn’t have the mental toughness I have now.
“Mental toughness helps make my physical game better,” added Fortna. “It’s about keeping your emotions in check, staying level-headed. It keeps you focused on the match at hand.”
Fortna was also generous in handing out the praise.
“I’d just like to think Coach Rohrbach and his father, (assistant) Coach (Gary) Rohrbach,” said Fortna. “Coach (Mike) Rohrbach is obviously a great coach. He was another element that added to our success. He basically led us to a successful season.”