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McClaren king of Section VI courts; Kessler achieves the double

Jack McClaren is returning to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association boys’ tennis championship tournament at the United States National Tennis Center in New York City, but unlike last season when he was merely a qualifier for the tournament he’ll head into this year’s event filled with a champion’s confidence.

The East Aurora junior earned his second bid to states by winning his first Section VI singles championship Wednesday night at Lancaster High School. McClaren survived two set points in earning a 7-6 (6), 6-2 triumph over Mike Kessler of Williamsville North.

“It feels really good,” McClaren said Friday. “Last year, I got second and an opportunity to go to states but this year it’s really nice to win the sectional title. … There are a lot of players there so being a sectional champion definitely helps give you a lot of confidence.”

The New York State tournament runs May 28-30 at the home of United States tennis.

McClaren went 4-0 during the sectional tournament to remain unbeaten on the season. He hasn’t lost a set, although he came close to dropping one Wednesday to Kessler.

Down two set points, McClaren fought off the first one via Kessler double fault. McClaren then won a rally that ended with Kessler hitting a forehand just long. McClaren won two more long rallies after that to take the first-set tie breaker.

“I just tried to stay focused on each point and not think about the score and just win each point,” McClaren said.

He rode that wave to a big lead in the second set and never looked back. McClaren dropped a total of 12 games at sectionals, advancing to the final with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Ramzi Tahouk of City Honors. He opened with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Darlin Ngoma of Hutch-Tech and also beat Amherst’s Tom Greco, 6-2, 6-2.

“I’m just really excited to return to states,” McClaren said. “Hopefully I’ll do well and win a few rounds.”

McClaren leads the Section VI contingent that includes three singles competitors and three doubles teams into action. The tourney starts May 28, with the quarterfinal and semifinals set for May 29. Singles and double championship matches are May 30.

Kessler earned a spot in states for the second year in a row and accomplished his goal of qualifying for the state tournament in both tennis and golf. The golf state tournament begins May 31 at Cornell University in Ithaca, but Section VI qualifiers are required to play a practice round May 30 to get a look at the course. Any state qualifier unable to make that practice session will be replaced by an alternate, according to Section VI golf chairman Nate Leary.

The other singles qualifier from Section VI is Greg Hastings of North Tonawanda, who beat Tahouk in three sets 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Orchard Park’s top-ranked doubles team of Zander Korach and Dan Freilicher beat Olean’s Jake Volz and Geoffrey Broadbent, 6-1, 7-6 (3), to win the championship. Joining these two teams at states will be once-beaten bracket winner Igancio Pujana and Nick Guay of Lockport, which beat Orchard Park’s second team of Kyle Schmitt and Colin Wilkinson, 6-2, 6-4.

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