Northwestern Press

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Press Photo by Nancy Scholz Northwestern area's Henry Paiste goes to his forehand to return the ball. Press Photo by Nancy Scholz Northwestern area's Henry Paiste goes to his forehand to return the ball.

Paiste wins third straight D-11 title

Thursday, May 2, 2013 by EMMETT MCCALL in Sports

Henry Paiste was challenged and he responded like a champion.

Make that a three-time champion!

Paiste, a home-schooled student from the Northwestern School District, won his third striaght District 11 Class AA singles tennis championship on Monday at the Westend Racquet and Fitness Center in Allentown.

But it wasn't easy.

Maybe that's why it felt so good.

Paiste dropped the first set before rallying for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Zach Shaff, a Moravian Academy freshman. Paiste will now advance to the PIAA State Tournament that begins on May 24 at the Hershey Racquet Club.

"This was my toughest match in three years of district competition," said Paiste, who improved his record to 15-0 in District 11 play during that time span. "Because of how well I had to play to win, I would say this is probably more rewarding than of any of my previous district victories.

"Zach played a great match and really pushed me. That's why this feels so good right now."

How great was the match?

The 2 hour and 28 minute marathon featured so many outstanding shots, incredible saves, and amazing points that when it finally ended, everyone in attendance rose to give both players a well-deserved standing ovation.

"That was the longest match of my life," said Shaff. "In the end, he just beat me mentally and physically."

Pasite did that by believing even when things looked bleak.

"There were a couple points in the match, particularly early in the second set and then again when he went ahead late in third set, that for a brief second, the thought entered my mind that I could lose this," said Paiste. "But that only lasted for a second.

"That's when I said to myself, 'just win the next point.' That's what you have to stay focused on. One swing, one point at a time and that's what I was able to do."

Paiste, who had dropped just one set in his 14 previous district matches, struggled early against the quick and relentless Shaff, dropping the final three games of the opening set.

"His defense was unreal," said Paiste. "I missed some shots that I feel like I should have put away, but at the same time I hit a lot of balls that I thought were winners that Zach ended up getting to and getting back.

"When that happens, I think it's important not to panic. So I tried to stay committed to what I was doing."

Paiste's confidence in his game was rewarded.

After falling behind 2-1 in the second set, he went on to win seven of the next nine games. That streak allowed him to win the second set and grab a 3-1 lead in the decisive third set.

But Shaff didn't go down without a fight.

Several aggressive charges to the net shifted the momentum and he won three straight games to take a 4-3 lead.

Paiste then fought off a game-point and managed to hold serve to even the score at 4-4.

His seventh service break of the match allowed Paiste to take a 5-4 lead. He put the match away on his ensuing serve with the final point coming on a perfectly lob that a retreating Shaff wasn't able to reach..

"When you're in a match like this, it's as much mental as it is physical," said Paiste. "That's where all the time you put in at the gym and on the court pays off.

"You have to fight through the tiredness and the doubts and find a way to win. It's how much heart you have and how much you want it."

Paiste said he received a lot of help along the way to develope those winning qualities.

"Winning three straight District 11 championships is an incredible feeling," said Paiste. "But none of this would have been been possible without some outstanding support and coaching.

"My parents have played a huge role in my tennis career and I want to thank them for all they have done for me. I also owe so much to my tennis coach Hernan Hernandez and my strength and conditioning coach John Graham from St. Luke's University Health Network. I could have never accomplished what I did without all of their help."