Upper St. Clair pair capture WPIAL doubles title
Call them the A team. For Liam Gibbons and Kevin Kwok used acumen, attitude and adaptability to capture a WPIAL championship. The Upper St. Clair students, who both sport grade point averages above 4.4 and plan to become doctors, combined to beat Hampton’s Ben Ringeisen and Ted Donegan, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, for the Class AAA doubles title in boys’ tennis.
“The main reason for our success came from our ability to adjust and adapt to the competition,” Gibbons said. “All the teams were good and they all were different. So we were always adapting to what the other teams did.
“We never really panicked either. We stayed calm, relaxed and didn’t get tight when we were down,” he continued. “When the stakes get high, it’s easy to lose your cool but we fed off each other’s attitudes and stayed composed. We told each other we’d be fine and it really worked well.”
Though they coasted through their first-round match, shutting out Hempfield’s duo of Mason Harbaught and Aidan Kelly, Gibbons and Kwok knew it would truly be fine when they upended North Allegheny’s pair of Richard Hofmann and Ivan Voinov, 11-9, in the quarterfinals. Hofmann was part of last year’s championship tandem and the USC twosome trailed, 9-8. One point away from elimination, Gibbons and Kwok reeled off three winners to advance to the semifinals.
“We were down the whole way but winning that match brought our confidence up a lot,” Kwok said. “If we could beat (Hofmann), we could beat anybody.”
USC tennis coach Ron Mercer agreed. “I knew they could win it all,” he said. “They are slow starters but they gained confidence. They didn’t panic. They pulled together. They didn’t get frustrated. They were down all three matches but they didn’t get down on themselves. They stayed super positive.”
In the semifinals, Gibbons and Kwok outlasted Ben Vinarski and Sid Iyer, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. The Pine-Richland duo took bronze medals in the tournament. In the finals, Gibbons and Kwok needed a first-set tiebreaker to set the tone.
With Kwok’s big serves and Gibbons’ net play, the opposition had little hope.
“What the other is not good at the other one is,” Mercer said. “They complement each other well. They really get along great on the court. They are strategizing all the time and they don’t give up.”
With their victory, Gibbons and Kwok are now qualified for the PIAA championships to be held May 26-27 at the Hershey Racquet Club. A USC doubles team last won a state title eight years ago.
“I think they can win it all,” said Mercer, who is hoping for his third state doubles champion from USC. “They have a good shot. Liam is already analyzing the opponents. In doubles, it is extremely important to stay calm and hold service but they are skilled enough to execute what they want to do.”
Once their scholastic tennis days are through, Gibbons and Kwok know what they want to do. Both want to play in college while pursuing medical paths to become physicians. A senior, Gibbons will study at Bucknell University. A junior, Kwok has already targeted Johns Hopkins, Case Western and Emory universities as his top schools.
All along, too, Gibbons has wanted a title. He set his sights on a championship when he started as a doubles player as a freshman. He moved to No. 2 singles the past two years behind Kwok, who is No. 1.
“I’m pretty excited about the WPIAL championship because I have always wanted to go for a title. It’s a great reward for all the work I put into high school tennis. Now the goal is to win a state championship. It’s very difficult to win a state title. We have to stay relaxed, know our game and adapt to the situation.”
Kwok agreed. “We have a good chance to do well in the tournament but states will be a lot tougher than the WPIAL because of the tough teams from Philadelphia. We have to not get down, pick up our game, keep focused and keep adjusting.”