ERIE - Warren senior Shane Burns can barely lift all the hardware he's helped the Dragons tennis program haul in the past two seasons.
That doesn't mean each and every accomplishment doesn't get sweeter and sweeter.
"It is never old hat to me because there is always something to improve upon in my game and always another challenge ahead to conquer," said Burns, who won his second straight District 10 Class AA Singles tennis title on Monday at the Pennbriar Club in Erie. "It feels awesome to repeat. Yes, I did have a lot of pressure from my teammates and coaches to defend the title, but that's not what happened. My drive to win is the love for the game. I love this sport more than anything and the practice and knowledge my coaches and teammates have given me are what helped me through this match."
Last year, Burns defeated top-seeded Chad Ferguson, of Greenville, 6-3, 7-5, to win his first D10 Class AA Singles title. That set the wheels in motion, as teammates Matt Sandberg and Thomas Pellegrino then took the doubles title, and Warren won its first-ever District 10 team championship.
This year, Burns has done it again, defeating upstart and unseeded freshman Ben Wescott, of Fairview, 6-3, 6-0.
"Shane is the very first Dragon to repeat his singles title in back to back years," said Warren coach Jeff Bartsch. "This is a major accomplishment for Shane and it reflects on the success the Warren program has had for the past four years."
The match started out with both playing tentatively, according to Bartsch.
"Nervous errors were made by both, but at 2-3 in the first set, Shane stepped up his game and finished off young Wescott without relinquishing another game in the match," said Bartsch. "Shane won four straight games to finish the first set 6-3. The second set was all Burns as Shane took control with big serving and great net play. Shane got to the net as quickly as possible to finish the points with clean volleys or big overhead smashes."
Wescott had won five straight matches, including preventing an all-Warren final when he defeated No. 8-seeded Nate Sandberg, 6-4, 6-1, in the semifinals Saturday.
Sandberg had already defeated Ferguson, last year's D10 finalist and this year's No. 2 seed, 8-6 on Saturday.
"It was maybe a little-easier road this year due to my teammate Nate Sandberg, who knocked off the number-two seed Chad Ferguson, who I faced last year in the finals," said Burns. "Unfortunately, Nate relinquished all of his energy on this match and fell in the semifinals. Nate is a great player, and I told him I would return his favor by winning the title.
"But I also want to say not only did I win this title for my teammates, coaches, and friends, but I also won it for a recent classmate who passed away in an accident," said Burns. "I'm not too sure if Paula (Southwell) was interested in tennis, but she was one of the students who had the most school spirit, and I hope I made her proud by bringing back this title."
The top seed, Burns' trip to the finals was via an 8-2 win over Josh Schrecengost of Corry; 8-0 over Nikolo Lima of Kennedy Catholic; 8-5 over Ryan Campbell of Mercyhurst Prep, and; a 6-1, 6-2 semifinal win over Jon Oskin of Fairview to earn a return to Monday's singles final.
Though Warren has enjoyed several doubles championships over the years, there has only been three District 10 singles champions from Warren dating back to 1990 when the program became a varsity sport.
"Adam Bartsch won the title back in 1997 as a senior and Jeff Nuhfer won it in 2007 as a senior as well," said coach Bartsch. "Last year, Shane was the first underclassman to win the title. Now, he is the very first to win two consecutive titles. In tennis, this is a major accomplishment.
"I really shook off the nerves in the first set and was a little more aggressive in the second," said Burns, who has won 45 singles matches in two seasons and earns his second trip to the PIAA Class AA Championships beginning May 24 at the Hershey Racquet Club.
"Shane has a strong work ethic," said Bartsch. "He is a smart young man who responds to coaching and he has enabled himself to become an outstanding player in the area. His level of play is greatly improved from a year ago. Much of that success can be directly linked to assistant coach Jeff Nuhfer, who passes on the torch of excellence. Each practice ends with Shane and Jeff getting in a quality hit. The results of that work has paid huge dividends in Shane winning this second championship."
"This time is a lot different from last time," said Burns. "I am more knowledgeable of the high level of competition and style of players at states. I know I will have to prepare more for these conditions and I hope to bring back some more metal for the team."
Next up for the Dragons is the District 10 Doubles Tournament, which will be held Wednesday at the Pennbriar Club in Erie. Warren's top entry will be the team of Matt Sandberg and Nate Sandberg. They will receive a high seed based upon their quarterfinal and semifinal finishes in singles. Also from Warren, seniors Grayson Foley and Nick Tarpenning will enter the event with a 14-1 doubles record. They, too, should receive high seeds as Warren's second team finished in the semifinals last year..
"My goals coming into the season were to make less unforced errors and be more aggressive as well as maintaining and undefeated record as a team, which we have done," said Burns. "Nate (Sandberg) will be playing with his brother, Matt, and I feel these two make a strong team as well as the other pair, Grayson Foley and Nick Tarpenning. I have faith in both pairs and feel that they will be successful during the tournament.
"We have talked about the team title and are prepared," said Burns. "We have a strong chemistry between each other and I feel that will greatly contribute to the team districts this Friday."