Alkhafaji, Talko come up short in finals

Although Hollidaysburg’s Rami Alkhafaji and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic’s Ryne Talko came up short this time, both have another shot at a District 6 tennis singles championship before they graduate.

The local standouts, both juniors, lost in the 2018 D6 championships which were played on a sunny, crisp Thursday morning at the Leopold Tennis Complex.

Alkhafaji dropped a three-set thriller in the Class 3A final to State College’s Nick Vanden, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, while Talko was swept by Westmont Hilltop’s Adam Kush, 6-0, 6-0, in the 2A title match.

Vanden lost the first set, 4-6, and overcame two service breaks in the third set before nailing down his third straight 6-3A title in a match that lasted over two hours.

“We’re both mentally and physically tough and it came down to a few points,”Alkhafaji said, “but Nick’s a great competitor and it’s been a pleasure playing against him.”

Alkhafaji lost to Vanden in the 2017 district semifinals.

“We all had tough matches yesterday, so it was a grind,” Vanden noted. “I was a little rusty this morning and (Alkhafaji) definitely had a great serve, but I was able to do my game.”

Vanden and Alkhafaji broke each other’s service once in the first two sets and the third set featured four consecutive breaks (two by each) before Vanden’s strong finish.

“We were both fatigued in that third set, big time,” Vanden said. “I was able to get more first serves in and got a few generous returns that I was able to put away and close it out.”

Vanden beat teammate Matt Worley in last year’s 3A final after topping Hollidaysburg’s Sam Sky two years ago.

Hollidaysburg coach Brian Denis raved about Thursday’s match.

“Anytime you play a third set, it’s tough,” Denis said, “but it’s been awhile since we’ve had this high level of play in District 6. No disrespect to past champions, but Vanden winning three straight titles … wow, that’s tough to do.

“This was a high level of tennis and was tough to see somebody lose.”

Alkhafaji’s brother, Amir, won the district singles title in 2014, and Rami hopes to win his next spring. Meanwhile, Rami will get ready for the upcoming district doubles tournament.

In 2A, Kush defeated Talko for the second straight year and had an easier time in the second go-round, needing less than an hour to dispatch the BG junior.

“Last year, I hurt my ankle before districts and hobbled around a lot,” Kush recalled of a 6-3, 6-3 win. “I really enjoy playing outside because I have a lot of topspin and a lot of people aren’t used to seeing that.

“I like to hit a lot of spin and move my opponent around,” Kush continued, “but I need to work on my putaway shots.”

Talko won the district title as a freshman and has played in the final three years in a row.

“How many people can say they made it three years in a row and won it once?” Talko offered. “I have another year and am hoping to come back to get two (titles) out of my four.

“(Kush) is a great player,” Talko noted. “His game is really solid. He has no weaknesses.”