Tigers capture 1st title

HOLLIDAYSBURG – For the first time in history, the District 6 Class AAA team tennis championship trophy resides in Hollidaysburg Area High School.

The Golden Tigers won their first-ever district team title with a 3-1 win over Altoona on Thursday afternoon at the Tiger Tennis Courts.

“In the 13 years I’ve been coaching, I’ve never been more ecstatic than I am for this group of kids,” Hollidaysburg coach Brian Denis said.

“It’s so difficult to win a district team championship in any sport, let alone tennis where State College has been so dominant and Altoona has a great team year in and year out,” Denis said.

State had won 10 team championships in a row and was seeded No. 1 again this spring, only to be upset by Altoona on Tuesday.

“The kids really deserve it,” Denis said. “They played the best tennis today they’ve played all year.”

The Tigers dominated from the outset Thursday when District 6-AAA singles champion Amir Alkhafaji trimmed Altoona’s Chad Allender, 6-0, 6-1.

Altoona’s only win came at No. 2 singles where Ryan Good bested Sam Sky, 6-2, 6-2.

The Tigers won both doubles – Josh Cobler and Emre Cardakli at No. 1 and John Johnson and Eric Miller at No. 2 – to clinch team honors. The No. 3 singles was not completed, since the team title was already decided. Hollidaysburg’s Max Sheetz held a 7-5, 3-2 advantage over Jake Colledge when play was halted.

It was the 14th straight win for the unbeaten Tigers, who will meet District 9 champion DuBois in the first round of the state team tennis tourney next Tuesday at a District 9 site.

Altoona finished the season 9-3, with all three losses to the Tigers. Hollidaysburg won the regular-season matchups, 4-1 and 3-2.

“We knew it would be a tough match going in,” Altoona coach Eric Hovan said. “They played really well today and we played hard but just couldn’t come up with enough shots to win.”

Both teams should be strong again next season. The Tigers lose only Alkhafaji and Johnson from their top seven players. Sky, Sheetz, Cobler and Cardakli all are sophomores and Miller is a junior. Altoona’s only seniors are the doubles duo of Mustafa Ahmad and Matt Eiman. All three singles returnees – Allender, Good and Colledge – are juniors while doubles partners Sam Houck (sophomore) and Tyler Rispoli (freshman) also return.

Alkhafaji will be the first Hollidaysburg player to compete in both singles and team play on the state level.

“It’s a true honor to win the team title,” Alkhafaji said. “John [Johnson] and I started as freshmen four years ago. We worked hard and made history [today]. I’m proud of it.

“I think it’s going to be great playing in both [tournaments],” Alkhafaji said. “I’m very excited. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The team event begins next week while the singles tournament will be held the following weekend.

“Altoona is my favorite match,” Alkhafaji said, “because I have a lot of respect for them. We’ve had some differences with them, but I think there’s a lot of respect and that’s what tennis is about.

“That’s why they call it the gentlemen and ladies sport.”

sINGLES: 1, Alkhafaji, H, def. Allender, 6-0, 6-1; 2, Good, A, def. Sky, 6-2, 6-2; 3, Sheetz, H, 7-5, 3-2, over Colledge (match not completed).

DOUBLES: 1, Cobler/Cardakli, H, def. Ahmad/Eiman, 6-2, 6-2; 2, Johnson/Miller, H, def. Houck/Rispoli, 6-3, 6-2.

Records: Altoona (9-3). Hollidaysburg (14-0).