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ACC tops Lehighton

ALLENTOWN - When it comes to creating a championship culture, few have a better sense of the subject than Allentown Central Catholic’s Jared Smith.

Smith has helped the Vikings take two of the last three District 11 Class 2A boys tennis titles.

The Central Catholic mentor knows what it’s like to be on the brink. And he knows what it takes to get over the hump.

Smith sees a squad in Lehighton that is on the verge of a breakthrough.

The Vikings utilized their skill, experience and depth to claim a 3-0 win over the Indians and advance to the 2A semifinals on Monday. Smith believes the same characteristics that have been the foundation for his program’s success will soon be in favor of their opponent.

“Five of my guys are seniors in my top nine, so we’ve been building this now over four years,” said Smith. “I knew we had the senior leadership, especially in doubles. We really have great depth there, and were able to take advantage of that part of our lineup. I knew the singles would be highly competitive, and as you saw, they were; we didn’t finish the first or second singles matches.

“But I was really pleased. We executed our game plan, we did what we needed to do. I was absolutely pleased. But commend Lehighton. They’re definitely an up-and-coming program.”

Seeded third, Central Catholic swept both doubles matches to build a 2-0 advantage in the match. The Vikings clinched the victory over the sixth-seeded Tribe when Mack Zeller won his No. 2 singles match.

With temperatures climbing into the upper 80s at Cedar Crest College and the semifinal matches scheduled for today, the two remaining singles contests were not completed.

Central Catholic’s Tim Spinosa led Lehighton’s Bayto Cokrlija 6-2, 4-3 when their No. 1 singles match was stopped. Matt Keenan rallied after trailing 3-4 to take the first set 6-4 against Isaac Carpenter at No. 3 singles for the Vikings, but Carpenter led 1-0 in the second set.

This is the third year in a row the Indians have qualified for the district team tournament, experience head coach Cody Schuler knows is invaluable.

“It’s great,” said Schuler. “I’m glad that they get out to play. Of course, when you have a season like we did, it’s even more exciting. We are looking forward to playing over the summer and next year.”

Lehighton, which finished the season with a record of 9-4, also enjoyed strong showings in the district singles and doubles tournaments. Brothers Bayto and Bekim Cokrlija qualified for the district singles tournament, with Bayto reaching the quarters. Bayto and Bekim teamed up for the doubles tournament, where they also reached the quarterfinals for the second year in a row.

While the success of the brothers Cokrlija - Bayto a junior and Bekim a sophomore - has been a driving force for the Indians in recent years the strides players such as Carpenter, in his second year playing tennis, have made help push the program forward.

Carpenter, a junior, did not crack the lineup last season, and played No. 1 doubles the first three matches before earning the spot at No. 3 singles.

“I feel, after getting a couple matches under my belt, that I really got a lot more confident and that I’m hitting the ball a lot better,” said Carpenter. “I just played a lot of tennis (in the offseason). It helps a lot. I play with them all the time, Bayto and Bekim especially. And just being out there, and playing people that are better than me, it’s really helped me improve.”

And that’s part of the larger picture for a Lehighton program that has the pieces in place to be a factor in the future.

“If they can have that solid 1-2-3 and then competitive doubles, they’ll be a force next year,” Smith said of Lehighton. “With everyone that’s leaving from our program, and then Saucon and Moravian as well. You’ve got to have that depth. They’ll be a fun team to watch next year.”


... The Tribe fell to Salisbury 3-2 last year in the quarterfinals. They lost to NDGP in the quarters in 2022.


... Bayto and Bekim Cokrlija have played Central’s Tim Spinosa and Mack Zeller each of the last two years in the district doubles quarterfinals. After falling 3-6, 6-0, 6-0 last year, Bayto and Bekim battled in the rematch last week before falling 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.


... In addition to returning their top three singles players, Lehighton will also welcome back sophomore Phillip Ebbert, who played No. 1 doubles Monday with senior Michael Bowman, and both No. 2 doubles players in junior Dante Kalbach and freshman Jed Cordes. The Indians, who played as an independent team the last several years, will be part of the Colonial League next season.


... Central Catholic, which won district titles in 2021 and 2022, will play No. 2 seed Saucon Valley today in the semifinals.

Allentown Central Catholic 3, Lehighton 0


Tim Spinosa (ACC) - Bayto Cokrlija 6-2, 4-3 (DNF); Mack Zeller (ACC) def. Bekim Cokrlija 6-0, 6-2; Matt Keenan (ACC) - Isaac Carpenter 6-4, 0-1 (DNF).


Ian Abbadessa/Aryaan Chauhan (ACC) def. Michael Bowman/Phillip Ebbert 6-1, 6-0; Alex Germick/Thomas Dzik (ACC) def. Dante Kalbach/Jed Cordes 6-2, 6-0.