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BOYS TENNIS: Cedar Crest's Muraika strikes district gold

HERSHEY >> Colin Muraika's right shoulder was strained, hurting and tired, the by-product of a lot of tennis.

So the Cedar Crest senior ace went unconventional by going with an underhanded serve, beginning with the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs — a tournament in which he reached the finals only to lose to Hempfield's Derek Hagino.

Most players would be eaten alive even attempting such a maneuver. Colin Muraika is not most players.

Fast-forward one week. After fighting his way into the District Three semifinals on Saturday with a pair of wins, Muraika's underhanded delivery went back in the closet for Monday's final two rounds. In its place was the powerful overhand (regular) serve, a honing device seemingly embedded in the tennis ball.

Muraika avenged the L-L defeat to Hagino a week earlier with a 6-3, 6-2 victory in the Class AAA final on Monday at Hershey Racquet Club, to dethrone the defending champion and take the gold medal for himself.

Muraika's singles championship is the second for Cedar Crest in the last four seasons.

"This is huge, yeah," Muraika said. "I just played so well. I was very composed throughout the whole match and I was glad my shoulder held up today. I would have gotten hammered if it wasn't for that."

Muraika is very aware of what this championship means not only for him, but for the Cedar Crest tennis program. He paid homage to the Crest's last D-3 champ, Weston Fortna, who won the title in 2012.

"There was a player who came up before me, Weston Fortna," he said. "He was a senior when I was a freshman. I always looked up to him. It means a lot to match his accomplishment."

Crest coach Mike Rohrbach was grinning from ear to ear.

"Anytime you win a district championship it's an incredible moment," Rohrbach said. "People may not realize how big the district is, how many schools, how many athletes it encompasses. It's a fantastic win for Colin, who's been working so hard for so many years. He really deserves it and I couldn't be more proud."

Muraika defeated Peter Landis of Red Land earlier Monday, 6-4, 6-0 to reach the final. Hagino clawed his way back against Jonah Buczewski of Exeter 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-4, in an exhausting semi, to reach from his end.

Muraika's service game, on point all day, was perhaps the most impressive aspect about his play given its recent mothball status. He hit several aces — two to close out games — and seemed to be able to place it wherever he wanted.

"My serve is usually one of the best parts of my game and it usually doesn't really go away," Muraika said. "I did injure it, but perhaps the rest period helped it out. When you play a lot of matches like this, it gets fatigued and gets pretty tight.

"I was serving underhand during L-Ls and Derek just ate it up. It felt fine today, and I was very confident going into the match. I'm probably lucky Derek's (semifinal) match went three sets; he was probably a little tired out there. But I was just in a zone."

Muraika opened the title match on serve, and the two opponents (and good friends) traded holds until the eighth game. Leading 4-3, Muraika finally broke Hagino when a baseline backhand from the latter fell into the net. Cedar Crest's ace closed out the first set by holding serve.

Muraika raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set by breaking Hagino — clearly tiring by this point — twice more and won the championship, on serve, three games later. He never trailed at any point during the match.

In the semifinal match against Landis, Red Land's No. 1 captured the first two games and narrowly missed going up 3-0. Landis was on serve and led Muraika 40-0, but couldn't put him away. Muraika battled back, broke serve to get on the board, and that's when things unraveled for the Patriots' senior.

Muraika won 10 of the next 12 games to establish a firm grip on the match. Landis uncharacteristically made a ton of unforced errors, and his frustration seemed to grow with each one. He exited without winning a game during the second set.

In the AA bracket, Elco's Adam Bahney had the misfortune of drawing the defending district and state champion, Andre Fick of Wyomissing, for his semifinal at HRC.

Bahney stayed with Fick early in both sets but dropped a 6-2, 6-3 decision.

Bahney led 2-1 in the first set before Fick reeled off five in a row to close it out, then was as close as 3-4 during the second set but couldn't get over the hump.

"I definitely think I could have done better," Bahney said. "He was playing extremely well, I'll give that to him. Hit some amazing shots. I wish certain things in my game had gone better. I wish I had served a little better. I just didn't feel quite right out there. But, yeah, he played a great match and I have to give that to him. I didn't quite do what I needed to do to get the big points."

Bahney was later beaten by Lancaster Country Day's Blaise Casselbury in three sets 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, in AA's third-place match to fall short of a state berth.