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Pioneer Athletic Conference

OJR’s Smith wins PAC singles title, tops Phoenixville’s Ellis in final

FAIRVIEW VILLAGE >> The postseason atmosphere brought out quality performances on the final day of the Pioneer Athletic Conference Singles Championships Monday morning at the Kinetix Sports Club.

Phoenixville senior Mike Ellis called the final ‘the best match I played all year.’

Unfortunately for the Phantoms’ No. 1 player, he was pitted against Owen J. Roberts junior Holden Smith.

The highly-touted Smith maintained his unbeaten spring to win the individual championship by virtue of a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Phoenixville’s Ellis in the final.

Phoenixville’s Mike Ellis hits a running forehand during the PAC singles tournament Monday at Kinetix. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

Smith spent several years competing in national tournaments while attending a private school in Maryland before returning home to Owen J. Roberts High School to focus on academics during his junior and senior seasons while preparing for the rigors of a college education.

The top-seeded Wildcat leaves today for an academic trip in California and will not compete in the District 1 championships this weekend. He does expect to play in the PAC doubles tournament beginning May 5.

“I started playing when I was 10,” said Smith. “Then, when I was 13, 14 and 15, I traveled across the country playing in tournaments, and I did training for four hours a day. It was really intense.”

However, now he wants to spend more time developing an accelerated academic program balancing advanced placement courses with the high-level caliber of tennis at the same time. He said he focused on tennis from last August through January before trimming his tennis schedule and making academics his higher priority.

Ellis still used the confrontation to play his best tennis of the spring season. The Phantom leader had his share of moments with good shots throughout the difficult match against Smith.

“It came down to big points and big-point rallies,” said Smith. “This was the toughest match I had all year.”

In the first set, Smith used a service break to take the lead and helped set the tone in the early going. Ellis got going toward the middle of the match with some solid play and productive shots as he tried to force the issue by keeping Smith on the move.

“It was the best match I played all year,” said Ellis. “He’s a great player. He played very defensive, and I missed a few chances. I executed well, but I missed a few opportunities.”

Missed chances for Ellis and Smith’s quality shining through led the OJR standout to the championship without dropping a set.

Ellis, Phoenixville’s first singles player, first had to take care of Phoenixville teammate Graham Light, the No. 2 singles player, during the semifinal round, and that was not an easy task either. Ellis wound up winning that match 6-4, 6-1 to advance to the finals.

Phoenixville’s Graham Light hits a backhand during the PAC singles tournament Monday at Kinetix. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

The two Phantoms advance to districts this weekend. Then Ellis and Light will team up for the doubles tournament, where the Phantoms hope to go far and advance to districts again in that portion of the postseason playoffs.

“Me and Graham have played many times,” Ellis said. “But to play against him in a tournament was really different. He has improved so greatly throughout the season.”

Norristown senior Franko Waweru gave the Eagles representation in the final four during Norristown’s first year of play in the Pioneer Athletic Conference.

“It was a great experience, tough,” said Waweru. “The last two matches were tough. In the quarterfinals, I had a tough two-setter.”

Waweru was seeded fourth in the 32-player field and wound up taking third place with a victory over Light in the third-place match. That finish came via a real battle. The final score went in favor of Waweru with scores of 6-4, 7-6 with a decisive 7-4 tiebreaker in the second set.

“I have played tennis since I was age 7,” said Waweru. “I play with passion and old-fashioned volleys. I like to come up to the net, slice and volley.”

Norristown’s Franko Waweru hits a forehand during the PAC singles tournament Monday at Kinetix. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

Light, the seventh seed, scored a major upset in three sets against second-seeded TJ Cruickshank of Spring-Ford, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, during the quarterfinals to alter the completion of the expected top finishers. So Light was still glad and happy to advance as the fourth-place finisher in the PAC for districts.

“I played really well to be among the best players in the tournament,” said Light. “I played well against Mike (in semifinals). We were really playing well, and he pulled it out. In the second match, he (Waweru) played well.”

Light is looking forward to district singles and then to teaming up with Ellis for PAC doubles.

“We have a shot at winning it,” said Light. “I am looking forward to it.”

NOTES >> The PAC singles tournament was scheduled to take place at Perkiomen Valley High School on Friday and Saturday. But the event was moved indoors to Kinetix due to the rainy weather. The semifinals, finals and consolation rounds were forced to a Monday fiinish. … The Rams’ Cruickshank fought back to win the fifth-place playoff. First, he beat Spring-Ford teammate Malchu Pascual 7-5, 6-3, and then he handled Methacton’s Adam Zhang 8-0 in a pro-set match. … Upper Merion’s Jaden Mayer also competed in that playoff. … Spring-Ford coach John Brennan, the tournament director, said medals will be presented during the PAC doubles to the top five finishers. … Three PAC players qualified for districts.

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