ALLENTOWN – Both Gonzalo Hernandez Cascante and Henry Paiste were playing in their first District 11 Tournament. And both first-timers looked pretty comfortable with their surroundings Thursday in the opening rounds of the Class AA singles tournament at West End Racquet Club.
Henandez, a Spanish foreign exchange student from Tamaqua High School, and Paiste, a Northwestern freshman, both won their first two matches and are headed to Saturday's quarterfinal round.
"As a freshman, it's my first time," said Paiste. "I'm pretty happy with the result.
"The first time is pretty important because you kind of make your mark let people know who you are. I think it can only get better from here on out."
Paiste came in as the No. 4 seed and beat Salisbury's AJ Foulke in the first round, 6-0, 6-1. In the second round he knocked out Wilson's Joey Heller, 6-0, 6-2.
"I think my first match was pretty tough," said Paiste. I was kind of nervous at the beginning I played really well in the second match so I'm pretty happy with that."
Although Northwestern doesn't have at tennis team, the Northwestern Tennis Association holds challenge matches to find the best player to send to districts, as each school gets at least one entry even if they don't have a tennis team.
Paiste plays regularly in USTA sectional tournaments and is familiar with most of the top players in the district tournament.
Hernandez, on the other hand, looks at tennis as his second sport. His first love is soccer and he led the Blue Raiders in scoring last fall. Back in Spain, he plays tennis for fun on weekends, but was never part of a team until this year.
"I only play soccer in Spain," he said. "I love tennis. It's one of my favorite sports."
Hernandez went 12-0 in the regular season, earning the No. 1 seed for districts. He won his first match, 6-0, 6-1, over Evan Green of Notre Dame (Green Pond).
In his next match, Blue Mountain's Adam Bear proved a worthy opponent before falling to Hernandez, 6-3, 6-3
"I'm very happy," he said. "I didn't expect it."
Hernandez will face No. 8 seed Bobby Michaelis in the quarterfinal round Saturday. Paiste takes on No. 5 seed Mike Zardet of Allentown Central Catholic. If both win, they will meet in the semifinals.
Both players have as good a shot as anyone of winning three more matches and taking the district crown.
In other action, Jim Thorpe's James Denny won his first match at districts. He defeated Tamaqua's Evan Stoll, 6-4, 6-3 to advance to the second round.
Denny fell in the second round, losing 6-0, 6-2 to Moravian Academy's Andrew Ma.
Lehighton's James Svercheck breezed through the first round before getting ousted by the No. 2 seed in the second round.
Svercheck beat Saucon Valley's Gavin Coyne in the first round, 6-0, 6-1. He then fell to No. 2 seed Madhav Valla of Moravian Academy.
Jim Thorpe's Mitch Franco made the district field and gave Zardet a good battle in the first round before falling to the Viking, 7-6, 6-2.
Olympian teammate Corey Ligenza got a tough draw, taking on No. 3 seed Mike Antonis of Notre Dame (Green Pond) in the first round. Antonis prevailed 6-0, 6-0.
Palmerton's Devon Frey also put up a good fight in falling 6-4, 7-6 to Brett Gubitosi of Notre Dame (East Stroudsburg).