Top tennis duo prepares for district singles

PUNXSUTAWNEY — After riding an undefeated season together as doubles partners to the PIAA State Championship Tournament in doubles in 2011, Punxsy's top pair of tennis players — Michael Blose and Tim Pearce — will each aim for a different goal today in DuBois: A District IX singles championship.

In a week that will see the Chucks team travel to DuBois Wednesday as well, with hopes of bringing a D-IX team title back to Punxsutawney, Blose and Pearce hope to kick off the week on a positive note.

Punxsy head coach Todd Heigley said the key to his duo's success on the court this morning is to stay focused and stick to their game plans.

"We need to make sure we don't take ourselves out of it mentally before it even starts," Heigley said Sunday night at a practice aimed to tune the pair heading into the tournament today. "Michael has fought back all year, and even Tim's come back from behind and won this season. But that's not a hole we want to dig ourselves into. We need to play within ourselves and not do anything crazy that will end up hurting us."

The Chucks' No. 1 and No. 2 singles players throughout the majority of the season, Blose and Pearce have had early struggles at times, but Heigley is encouraging them to begin strongly, while maintaining their cool and composure.

"We want to avoid slow starts and get going right out of the gates," he said. "You lose the first set, and you're playing catch up all day long. If we can stay within ourselves and our game, though, we'll be OK."

Blose will open the tournament in the quarterfinals with a match against a familiar foe — one he defeated not too long ago — in Bradford's Cody Bly.

Blose earned a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Bly April 17 in Bradford, but it wasn't a match that came easily for Blose, as he found himself down 1-4 in the first set before turning his game on.

If Blose can hand Bly another defeat, he'll face the winner of the other quarter in his side of the bracket between DuBois' Matt Fultz, who handed No. 2 Pearce a loss in Punxsy's dual against DuBois April 27, and Cory Maines, who edged Pearce 11-9 in a third-set tie-breaker just last week in Punxsy.

Pearce will start on the opposite side of the bracket in the quarters with a match against Clearfield's Ian Bookhammer, who defeated Punxsy's No. 1 Blose in a close match last Wednesday in Punxsutawney.

If Pearce can advance to the semi-final round, he'll face the winner of a match between DuBois' Trey Gilmore, who has had a strong season including a pair of victories over Blose at No. 1 singles, and Conner Nickel, who Blose handled easily April 17 in Bradford.

Despite a tough slate of opponents scheduled, Heigley is confident in the ability of his top pair.

"For the most part, I think we'll be fine," he said. "We have to be patient. It's a little different from the regular season, because you get a few more minutes between sets to coach them a little more. And if you go three sets, you get the full third set and not a tie-breaker. That gives you some more time to settle down and play your shots."

Heigley also said that while singles and doubles are very different games, the experience of making the trip to Hershey to play on such a large stage may play a factor as far as confidence goes for Punxsy.

"I think the confidence and experience definitely seems to carry over," he said. "We need to bring that kind of confidence to the table: A play like you've been there before sort of mentality. They've been on the big stage in doubles before, and I think that can benefit them. Singles is a different animal than doubles, though."

Heigley is also hopeful that after spending most of the time last year in other positions, the experience of playing a full season at No. 1 and No. 2 singles won't hurt either.

"This is the first year they've played No. 1 and 2 singles all year long, and that seems to have made them a bit more comfortable," Heigley said. "But there were points this season where we didnt play like we were No. 1 and No. 2, also. So, they need to play consistently and play confidently."

The quarterfinal matches, which will consist of one set to 10 games, are scheduled to begin for AAA at 9:30 a.m. at the DuBois Area High School courts. The semis will follow, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., and the finals will take place afterwards, set to begin around 12:30 p.m.

Heigley said he hopes for good things out of his players, but he knows they'll give it their all in preparation. He said preparations for a tournament such as this one are just like preparing for any other sport.

"We'll get a good night's rest and do anything a good athlete would do before a big game," he said. "But even though it's a bigger stage than the regular season, it's still tennis. I try to remind them of that. It is what it is, and we'll take it however it goes."