As the earlier matches unfolded on Wednesday, it became clear the fate of State College’s tennis team, as it has all season, would come down to seniors Cooper Josephs and Edward Badding.
However, as the duo began their singles matches against Altoona, it also became clear that State College was well on its way to a 10th consecutive district team title.
Josephs defeated Chad Allender 6-0, 6-2 after Allender challenged him two weeks ago in Altoona.
Then, after Badding took care of Ryan Good 6-0, 6-1, State College earned the 3-2 District 6 Class AAA team victory inside Penn State’s Sarni Tennis Center on Wednesday.
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While a single win by Altoona would have cinched the upset, the pressure didn’t seem to faze either senior.
“We’ve been trying to carry the team a little bit this season,” Josephs said.
“There were some nerves, but I’ve been doing this for four years.”
Josephs, also the district singles champion, finished the regular season 19-0 and other than a loss to Wyoming Seminary last season, hasn’t lost a regular season match since his freshman year.
When he faced Allender for the singles title in Altoona, the boisterous home crowd rattled the senior and cost him a set.
“Honestly, it comes down to your mentality,” Josephs said.
Inside friendlier confines, a calmer Josephs showed little emotion, choosing only to gently pump his fist just before going up 4-1 in the first set.
He wasn’t always so cool.
“No, I used to be a train wreck mentally,” he said. “I used to lose my head, but I realized that just helps the other player. They see that and they feed off that…”
There was little reason to be rattled about on Wednesday.
Josephs, who plans to attend Bucknell next year and try out for the tennis team, relentlessly attacked the net and forced his opponent to use his backhand.
That attacking style has been key to his success.
“He’s a pretty damn good volleyer,” Badding said of Josephs with a laugh. “When he’s on and he comes into the net he’s pretty much unstoppable.”
“It’s just the pressure. He keeps on moving in. He cuts off all the angles and then you’re like ‘Man, what am I supposed to do?”’
Badding, whose career has also been impressive, is a long-armed southpaw with a long, looping swing that generates speed.
The senior, who plans to attend Penn State next year, was undefeated in the regular season in his sophomore and junior years.
He finished 10-1 this season after battling a back injury.
“I remember my freshman year I always looked up to (the seniors),” Badding said. “And if it came down to two matches it would be like ‘oh, they’re going to win.’”
“I’m a senior now and it’s time for me to step into that role.”
For State College (14-3), a few underclassmen earned valuable experience in a pressure situation.
The doubles team of freshman Dan Shull and sophomore Shreyas Radhakrishna won the key match that gave Josephs and Badding a chance to clinch the team title.
The duo beat Altoona’s Sam Houk and Matt Eman 6-2, 6-3 after State College freshman Sebastian Forest lost 6-0, 6-1 in singles and junior Luke Plowden and sophomore Enrique Del Castillo lost in doubles 6-1, 6-2.
Shull, who partnered with Badding to win the district doubles title last week, controlled the action with his service game. Had that team lost, Altoona would have won the match 3-0.
“That was huge because that kept us in the match and kept us going,” said head coach Jane Borden.
With the win, State College clinched the district singles, doubles and team championship for the third season in a row. It’s also the 10th consecutive season they’ve won the doubles title.
Borden, in her 21st year coaching, third as the boys’ head coach, said her team this season was young, but earned learned how to execute under pressure.
Next for State College will be the first round of the PIAA team state championships on Tuesday against the District 9 winner in Altoona.
While the Little Lions dominance has been continued, Josephs has his sights set higher.
“In the singles I’ve only gotten to the quarterfinals, but I’m looking to go further than that this year,” he said. “This is my last opportunity and I really want to do well.”