WEXFORD – Separately, Kat Wang and Marra Bruce are very good tennis players.
United, they are unstoppable.
In fact, the Peters Township pair combined to become champions, winning the WPIAL Class AAA doubles title with a straight-set victory, 6-2, 6-0, over Jenna Bell and Carolin Walters from Latrobe in the finals played Thursday at the Oxford Athletic Club.
“I feel like we have great chemistry,” said Wang, “so I would say that putting the two of us together was a good thing.”
Long before Wang and Bruce lost in the WPIAL singles tournament, PT head coach Phyllis DeRienzo realized the potential of uniting the sensational sophomore with the fantastic freshman. Not only are they the PT girls team’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, they have played tournament doubles at DeRienzo’s insistence.
“It’s a great combination. One-two punch,” she said.
“They have every element of the game that you need to have to produce results like that,” she added about their dominance throughout the two-day district championships.
Wang and Bruce breezed into the finals by sweeping past Bethel Park’s Jenna Chernicky and Madison Conroy, 10-1, and Moon’s Kira Ley and Ella Patton, 10-1, in the opening rounds before dispatching Fox Chapel’s Carissa Shepard and Catherine Petrovich, 6-4, 6-1, in the semifinals to set up the championship contest.
After falling behind, 2-1, Wang and Bruce found their groove. They did not drop a game after that point.
“Their serves set up a lot of potential poaching. They won a lot of points that way,” explained DeRienzo. “Their volleys are strong, particularly in the last set.
“We are trying to integrate the doubles mentality with them. It’s a bit of a crossover to get them to think like a doubles player but it looked like better doubles in the second set.”
Bruce knows exactly how to think like a doubles player. Her mother, Marci, was a two-time PIAA doubles champion at Mt. Lebanon and her brother, Connor, won a state title with Ellian Ascencio this spring.
Those facts raised the stakes for Bruce, who is only 14 years old. She admitted there was “a lot of pressure” to follow in the footsteps of her kin but she was up to the challenge.
“(My mom and my brother) were like ‘You had to do it in the four years,’ and I was like ‘Why not do it the first year?’ Now there is no pressure. I can just go into states now feeling calm and relaxed but excited.”
DeRienzo is thrilled with Bruce’s resilience. She was seeded No. 1 in the section tournament but had to win a consolation match to qualify for the WPIAL singles tournament. In that event, she was ousted in the second round.
Of the pressure of coming from an athletic family, which also includes Hunter Bruce, a WPIAL golf champion who is now competing at Penn State, DeRienzo said, “Marra handles it well. It drives her, but she also knows that she is young so she has time.
“This was huge,” DeRienzo added of the championship. “I think she is enjoying this with more to come.”
Bruce and Wang enjoy playing doubles together and are thrilled to have qualified for the PIAA tournament Nov. 1-2 in Hershey.
“Kat is an amazing partner,” Bruce said. “She’s a consistent baseliner while I just put away the balls. Kind of like our little strategy going on. So it works out well for us.”
Wang agreed. She said the pair play to each other’s strengths and complement each other’s style of play.
“I can stay at the back on the baseline,” said the 15-year-old netter. “I am just hitting and grinding at times and she is really good at net and finishing off things.”
Though Wang and Bruce polished off the competition, Wang said it was not easy. She noted that in the games there were some “ups and downs” but the duo remained collected.
“We kept calm and that is what got us through,” she said. “We both were just really focused. We knew what we wanted and we came together.”
While Bruce and Wang will be together Oct. 10 through the 17th to help the Indians battle for a WPIAL team championship, they are not forgetting about the possibility of a triple play – adding a PIAA doubles gold to their collection.
“Though we are now focused on the team, it doesn’t mean we are going to put doubles in the back seat. We are going to keep working,” Wang said. “The goal is a state championship and we have to keep focused, keep hitting together and working on some minor techniques.”