Elco s Maddie Shaak has her eye on the ball as she prepares to serve during her first-round match at the PIAA Singles Championships on Friday at Hershey
Elco s Maddie Shaak has her eye on the ball as she prepares to serve during her first-round match at the PIAA Singles Championships on Friday at Hershey Racquet Club. Shaak rolled to a 6-0, 6-0 win in the opening round before seeing her career ended in a heartbreaking three-set quarterfinal loss. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS EARL BRIGHTBILL )
HERSHEY - Maddie Shaak has done a lot of impressive things during her scholastic tennis career, including winning three county singles titles, one league singles crown and being part of a district championship doubles team.

But what she pulled off on Friday at Hershey Racquet Club may in many ways take the cake.

Somehow, in her despair over suffering a career-ending defeat, the Elco senior managed to expertly balance the teary disappointment of a teenager with the big-picture maturity of a full-grown adult.

It was an accomplishment she would have gladly done without. Or at the very least, would have preferred to put off one more day.

Shaak's hopes of adding a lengthy state tournament run to an already highly decorated career were dashed by a heartbreaking, tear-inducing three-set quarterfinal loss in the PIAA Class AA State Championships on Friday.

Up a set and 2-1 to New Hope Solebury freshman phenom Genevieve Hobson, Shaak simply couldn't slam the door and secure a coveted semifinal berth, falling in soul-stinging fashion, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.

Predictably, the tears flowed and the voice cracked as Shaak spoke of the one that got away. But only for a little while, as slowly a hefty dose of perspective creeped into the conversation.

"It's not the way I wanted to end my season," she sniffed, eyes still moist and red.


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"But I've had a good one, and I have to be thankful just to be out here playing. All this (playing in the state tournament) was extra anyway. It doesn't feel like it now, but it was a great experience."

And it was oh-so-close to being even greater for Shaak, who couldn't have planned on even being in the state tournament after suffering a serious knee injury in a skiing accident back in February.

But after steamrolling overmatched District Nine champ Maria Gismondi of Elk County 6-0, 6-0 in the first round, Shaak appeared to be picking up where she left off by taking the first set off the hard-hitting Hobson in what was a battle of wills and entertaining shotmaking from the baseline.

Shaak then went up 2-0 in the second set and had three game points to make it a 3-1 advantage in the second that surely would have had Hobson's chin scraping on the ground.

But that moment of despair never came for Hobson. She just kept swinging away and pounding out her heavy groundstrokes, grabbing the momentum and the next four games and never completely surrendering it again.

Elco s Maddie Shaak lines up a forehand during her first-round match at the PIAA Singles Championships on Friday.
Elco s Maddie Shaak lines up a forehand during her first-round match at the PIAA Singles Championships on Friday. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS EARL BRIGHTBILL)

Shaak also helped her opponent's cause with an uncharacteristically high number of errors, although many of them came from pure fatigue at having to continually find an answer to Hobson's repeated rapid-fire forehand and backhand blasts.

"We just couldn't seem to close out games," Elco coach Zach Cook said of Shaak's struggles to put Hobson away. "We were up 40-0 or 40-15 numerous times and Hobson looked at times like she was about to break down. But we couldn't put the nail in the coffin, couldn't quite do it. But not for lack of effort."

For sure. After appearing hopelessly out of the second set when Hobson took control and went up 5-2, Shaak's fighting spirit came to the surface and allowed her to eventually force a tiebreaker. But a lot of air went out of Shaak's balloon after she couldn't complete the comeback and ended up in a do-or-die third set.

"She earned that tiebreaker," Shaak said. "It wasn't like I missed, she was on in that tiebreaker. But that's just like a stab in the heart, when you work so hard to come back and lose it like that."

More deflating moments came in the third set when Shaak rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to tie and go up 40-0 in the critically important seventh game of the set.

But as she did in the second set, Hobson simply pounded her way out of trouble, winning five straight points to take the game and ultimately the match after Shaak finally ran out of adequate replies.

But not the appropriate words to sum it up all up.

"Like I said, I know it's a blessing and I'm very thankful to be out here, with my knee injury," Shaak said. "But it doesn't feel like it now. I feel disappointed in myself, like I should have done better.

"Honestly, though, I know I'm gonna look back on this and just think how stupid I was to be upset. I'm not aware of it now, but I will be eventually."

Her coach already is.

"This one will stick with her for a little while," Cook said. "But soon she'll look back and reflect and realize this is just an awesome time. The work she put into this season really speaks to her character. She's by far the hardest-working girl I've ever coached. I couldn't be prouder of her right now."