The wind was testing Steven Dodson's composure.
So was the opposition.
After breezing through the first set of his match with Altoona's James Doeing like the gusts flowing through the Bertram Leopold Complex on Wednesday, Hollidaysburg's No. 1 boys singles tennis player dropped five straight games and the second set to the Mountain Lion who had eliminated him from the District 6 Class AAA tournament last year.
"It was kind of making me nervous,'' Dodson said. "Then my coach told me to stay calm, start jumping and get back into the game. That really helped put me in a positive mindset.''
Dodson turned to his power game to take the first five games of the third set en route to a 6-0, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Doeing as the Golden Tigers, entering the most challenging part of their schedule, stayed unbeaten by besting their archrivals, 6-1, on a blustery afternoon.
In addition to Dodson, the Tigers' Cameron Humphrey posted a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Chris Reighard, Amir Alkhafaji downed Tyler Hollingsworth, 6-3, 6-0, Brian Schultz came back to defeat Casey Snyder, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, and Donnie Vonada topped Matt Eiman, 6-2, 6-0, to decide the meet before the doubles matches.
"After we got a set under our belts, we really settled in. I think we adjusted very well [to the wind],'' Hollidaysburg coach Brian Denis said after the Tigers improved to 7-0. "Every time we play Altoona, it's a good rivalry. I didn't expect anything less, but to come out and win it in the singles feels pretty good.''
After Alkhafaji got the Tigers on the board with a quick win at No. 3, much of the drama centered on Dodson's duel with the steady Doeing. It looked like Dodson might make it a quick match when he swept the first set, but then Doeing got Dodson to play his style of second set and evened things up.
"It was tough in the wind, especially against a player like him. He always seems to hit the ball back. The first set, I just played quickly, played urgently, and that worked out well. I noticed in the second set that he was changing up his game, and I tried to change my game It didn't work out well for me,'' Dodson said. "My coach told me to get my head back in the game.''
Dodson's game is built around a strong first serve and a power forehand. That allowed him to push Doeing back on the baseline while he, in turn, rushed the net. Dodson reeled off the first five games in the third set, then, after dropping one, finished off the match.
"I try to play more consistent, let them make the mistakes and keep in points,'' Doeing said. "He was keeping it really low, playing a slice, and, with the wind, it was hard to get it back.''
At about the same time as Dodson was polishing off Doeing, Humphrey was finishing his match with Reighard. It took the No. 2 competitors almost as long to complete their first set as it did Dodson and Doeing to play their first two, but, once Humphrey pulled out the opening set, he adjusted and let his power and shot-making ability carry him to a team point in short order.
"The wind really messed me up. I hit a lot of top spin, and the wind blows it wide, so I had to hit more to the center of the court,'' Humphrey, who trailed 5-4 in the opening set, said. "I was trying to hit it deeper and mess him up a little bit.''
Although Altoona dipped to 6-3, Mountain Lions coach Eric Hovan wasn't too discouraged by the outcome.
"We were right in it,'' Hovan said. "Three of those matches were coin-flip type of matches. When we had chances, we didn't take advantage in any of the three.''
Not converting on those opportunities can be unforgiving against Hollidaysburg this season.
"When we have our challenge matches, our top three guys all beat each other. It's great to have three guys that are pretty close to the same ability level, to have that balance at the top of the lineup,'' Denis said. "And our No. 4 guy lost to our No. 3 guy in three sets. Our No. 5 guys actually beat our No. 4 guy once. There's not a heck of a lot of dropoff from one to five, which is nice to have, because you know, as you go down the lineup, you have a better chance to win.''
The Tigers will need to be at their best in the next few meets. Coming off encounters with tough St. Marys and Kiski Prep squads before facing the Mountain Lions, Hollidaysburg travels to undefeated Westmont Hilltop today and faces perennial District 6 Class AAA kingpin State College next week.
"We're getting in the rhythm of playing three or four really quality opponents in a row. We want to see how we do up with State College,'' Denis said.
Meet notes: Jared Kimble and John Johnson combined for a doubles win for the Tigers. The pairing of Jake Herbster and Joey Settimio accounted for Altoona's only team point with an 8-2 victory at No. 2 doubles. ... Altoona won't be back in action until May 5; Hovan said half of his team will be taking part in a band trip. The District 6 singles tournament will be next weekend.
SINGLES: 1, Dodson, H, def. Doeing, 6-0, 3-6, 6-1; 2, Humphrey, H, def. Reighard, 7-5, 6-1; 3, Alkhafaji, H, def. Hollingsworth, 6-3, 6-0; 4, Schultz, H, def. Snyder, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1; 5, Vonada, H, def. Eiman, 6-2, 6-0.
DOUBLES; 1, Kimble/Johnson, H, def. Albright/Borst, 8-4; 2, Herbster/Settimio, A, def. Kirsch/Albright, 8-2.
Records: Hollidaysburg (7-0); Altoona (6-3).