By Jay Young
High school tennis players from New York State have a pretty sweet gig when it comes time to get on the court for the postseason.
Bryce Payne, left, and his younger brother, Jack, will take to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing today in their first match in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Tennis Tournament.
P-J file photo by Scott Reagle
Once singles players and doubles teams make it through their respective county tournaments, all they have to do is place well during sectional championships in order to earn a bid to play at one of the game's most storied venues - the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing.
To put it in perspective, that would be like a high school baseball team playing one of their final postseason games at Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field.
This year Bryce and Jack Payne of Panama will be the only players from the western Southern Tier to make the trip east to the storied courts, and the first ever representatives for the Panthers.
"Panama has never had a qualifier for the state tournament before so this is really new ground for us,'' Panthers' tennis coach Mark Raynor said. ''This should really give the program a boost even though we had 16 kids out this year due to our past success.''
After Bryce finished his senior season with a 10-1 record at first singles, and sophomore Jack went undefeated at 12-0 in the second spot, the brothers put their talents together when it came time to play for a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championship.
That decision to combine forces has proven to be the right decision for the Paynes, who repeated as doubles champions at this year's Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Championships.
The duo earned that title for the second consecutive year after topping the Fredonia Hillbillies team of Nick Johnston and Jake Thompson, 6-1, 6-2, in the semifinals and winning the finals 6-2, 6-1, against Jake Volz and Geoffrey Broadbent of Olean.
See PAYNES, Page B2
From Page B1
After making their way to the Section 6 tournament at the Southtowns Racquet Club, the pair got into the groove once more by defeating Gregg Hastings and Joe Piotrowski of North Tonawanda, 6-2, 6-1, in their first-round match.
Then the brothers posted a narrow 6-2, 7-6 (7-1 tiebreaker), win over Raj Bhayana and Matt Mangione from Williamsville East to stay alive in the quarterfinals, but fell in the later semifinal match, 6-2, 6-2, to Tommy Baldinger and Kevin Zablonski from Orchard Park.
In the end, it was their resilient, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, win over Zander Korach and Dan Freillicher of Orchard Park that earned the brothers third place and a shot to go up against the best in the state.
"We felt a lot better this year. We had more skill and confidence in sectionals and just played really well," said Jack.
Just like his older brother, Jack has been a member of the Panthers team since his first year of eligibility as a seventh grader and has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of his career.
"Jack was in seventh grade at my start,'' Raynor said, ''and you could see the potential was there. He also started to play year-round and that's when their game took off. Bryce was a freshman when I started as coach and has worked very hard and plays year-round even while playing football and basketball.
"Besides working hard, they give back to the team and are very helpful with our new players each year.''
Good doubles teams often work because of a balance and understanding between players, and the differences in style and experience between Jack and Bryce have helped make the brothers such a great pair.
"Jack focuses more on power while I focus more on placement," said Bryce of their style.
Of course, being brothers brings its own special set of challenges to the game.
"But sometimes because we are brothers it is easier to get mad at each other, but we are teammates, it's fun and I like it," Bryce added.
At this point in the year, everything is gravy for the Panthers top duo. Getting a chance to travel to New York City after an already great season is just where the pair was hoping to be at this point in the year.
"Yeah, it is really exciting, especially because it is Bryce's senior year and everything," said Jack.
When the brothers step on to the court for their first match at states at 1 p.m., today, the focus will be more about taking in the moment than hitting corners on every shot.
"We just want to come away with the experience and make the best of it,'' Bryce said. ''We aren't trying to win or lose. We just want to enjoy it while we can.''
After getting on the court for their first match today, the pair will continue to play if they come away with a victory, or will return on Friday morning if they meet a first round loss.
"Yeah, I am so excited, I can't wait," Bryce said.