T-D HS Tennis

Westmont Hilltop’s top singles player Jeremy Burkheimer and the rest of the Hilltoppers face ELCO in today’s PIAA Class AA team tournament.

Windber, Westmont set for PIAA tourney

By: Mike Kovak

JOHNSTOWN — Windber boys’ tennis coach Joe Podrebarac added larger-classification schools like Hollidaysburg to the Ramblers’ schedule for the 2013 season in hopes of accomplishing two goals: Win the District 5 team championship and advance to the PIAA playoffs.
Mission accomplished.
Windber, after seven previous appearances in the District 5 championship match, blanked Bedford on Thursday for its first title. The championship gained the Ramblers entrance into the PIAA Class AA tournament , where the Ramblers will be joined by Westmont Hilltop, winners of the last three District 6 championships. First-round play begins today.
“It’s exciting to get to states, especially with the group I have this year,” Podrebarac said. “The seniors have been training with us since they were freshmen, which makes it nice.”
Windber (13-2) faces perennial power Sewickley Academy, winners of the last 10 WPIAL championships, at 2:30 p.m. at North Allegheny High School.
“That’s why we scheduled a team like Hollidaysburg. I wanted the boys to see what it was like to play somebody that’s great,” Podrebarac said. “I think we’ve seen a team as good as Sewickley Academy and I know the guys are looking forward to it. We attacked the season with the goal of winning the district titles and I told the guys that maybe this could be the team that goes and beats a District 7 champion. We at least want to make them play their best to beat us.”
Westmont Hilltop faces ELCO, the third-place team from District 3, at 1:30 p.m. at Leopold Recreation Center in Altoona.
“We don’t know anything about them. At this point, you go and hope to play your game,” Westmont Hilltop coach Mike Kush said. “They’re from District 3 and that’s a strong district. I think some of the kids from last year weren’t quite sure what to expect when we played District 3 (Biglerville). The guys went in pretty loose and that experience from last year gives us experience for this year.”
The 3-2 victory against Biglerville advanced Westmont Hilltop to the quarterfinals, where it lost to Sewickley Academy at Hershey Racquet Club.
“We want to go to Hershey again. That’s what the boys said,” Hilltoppers coach Mike Kush said. “Last year, we beat the District 3 team to get to Hershey and we had such a nice time with the whole experience. The guys that went last year all want to win and get back down to Hershey.”
The Hilltoppers rely on a senior-laden lineup. Jeremy Burnheimer plays No. 1 singles followed by Andrew Rizkalla at No. 2 singles and Ben Katz at No. 3. Katz had the Hilltoppers’ key win in a 3-2 victory over Juniata for the District 6 championship.
“Even with several returning lettermen, we have a very small team. We only have 10 on the roster,” Kush said. “A big key for us this year is we haven’t been getting hurt. We knew we didn’t have a lot of depth.”
Windber’s run has been aided by four seniors – Jake Hanley, Stephen Thomas, Nick Napora and Adam Sube. All four have been with the team since their freshmen seasons. Hanley made the ascent from not starting as a freshman to being the Ramblers’ No.1 singles player.
“For our underclassmen, this has been a great opportunity to learn and play with this group,” Podrebarac said. “And this is going to be a great opportunity to experience something new. I know we’re all looking forward to it.”