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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 19, 2011

Class AA champs
Dutchmen tennis beat Eagles, return to Class AA finals again

By Jordan J. Michael

SCHENECTADY –– Central Park in Schenectady is a popular place for the Guilderland tennis team to be playing this time of year. The Dutch have missed the Class AA finals only once since 2004 –– winning one title in 2005.

After being the runner-up many times before, Guilderland returned to the courts of Central Park on Friday and took down the defending champion and top seeded Bethlehem Eagles, 5 to 4.

“It’s a huge relief,” said senior Mike Donadio, who beat the Eagles’ Kade Pettie in three agonizing sets (3-6, 6-3, 6-4). “To always lose in the finals; that’s the worst.”

Donadio, the number-two singles player, has been with the Dutchmen for four years, losing in the finals a few times while getting knocked out in the semifinal round in 2010. He and his teammates finally got to end a tennis season with a victory.

“We had a good vibe going because everyone was giving us support,” Donadio said. “All you have to do is win your match and your team will have a good chance. It worked out for us.”

Guilderland was down, 4 to 2, but closed out three matches (all in the third set) to beat the Eagles for the title. Brandon Leichman and Zach Fashouer won their doubles match (6-3, 6-7, 6-1), seventh-grader Alex Federov won his contest (6-2, 3-6, 6-1), and Donadio pulled his match out.

“It went pretty quickly, like 10 minutes,” said Dutch Head Coach Curtis Snyder. “Everyone was up in the third set. It worked out perfectly.”

Snyder told The Enterprise that walking the premises during a big sectional competition is like “putting out small fires.” He picks his moments, looking at the scores, and then looks back to see some differences. Some of his players want to know what’s going on, but some don’t.

“Each player handles pressure differently,” Snyder said. “Some of them want the information and others would rather not know. Either way, they always had a chance.”

In the semifinals against second-seeded Niskayuna, the Dutchmen fell behind, 4 to 1, but closed out four matches to move on. The team also beat Ballston Spa, 8 to 1, in the quarterfinals. Actually, every team Guilderland beat in sectionals, it had lost to during the regular season.

“These teams were standing in our way again,” said Snyder. “We saw the draw and got pumped up. We found a good combination of skill and desire and kept on winning.”

The three doubles teams for the Dutchmen swept all six matches during the semifinals and the finals. Along with Leichman and Fashouer are John Evans and Abifhek Paul, Tyler Matteson and Shane Foley.

“The doubles were critical to our success,” Snyder said. “We worked on that a lot this season and it showed through.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of Guilderland’s 2011 tennis season is the involvement of two seventh-grade singles players. Federov has been at the fourth-seed spot all year and Michael Zhu was brought up for the sixth-seed spot after a loss to Ballston Spa in early April.

Even though Federov and Zhu are very young, Snyder says that the two players fit in just fine. “I knew Federov was going to come up this year after all the work he did,” Snyder said. “Both were excited to play and are students of the game. It was clear that they would make it.”

Donadio, who took Federov under his wing, said that he wouldn’t be able to handle varsity pressure at such a young age.

“Our team relies on the younger kids,” Donadio said. “They’re well prepared and everyone contributes. We wouldn’t have won a title without everyone.”

Guilderland had Austin Malerba, Kyungduk Rho, Erick Kopff, Donadio, Federov, and Leichman play in individual sectionals on Wednesday. Donadio and Federov will be a doubles team, as well as Kopff and Leichman. Malerba and Rho are in the singles bracket.

Only Donadio will graduate, so another finals run will be in the making for 2012. All the team members play indoor tennis and hit the ball constantly.

“We have good players that work hard in the off season,” Snyder said. “They tasted the history and they like it. That’s why we keep coming back.”

Donadio told The Enterprise that all this triumph starts with the coach.

“Curt does a great job and gives his all to us,” said Donadio. “He’ll do anything to help us keep winning. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. It’s wonderful.”

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