---- — By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
For those of you who don't think tennis is a year-round sport, you haven't met Ben Koch of Lewisburg.
For the recently-graduated Green Dragon, Koch, who's now bound for Kent State, has been working tirelessly the past year to achieve that one defining moment to end his high school career.
Koch, The Daily Item's 2013 Boys Tennis Player of the Year, succeeded in his mission of becoming the District 4 singles champion.
"For me, there is no off-season. I play year-round and I was really working hard over the winter to get my training in that way I would be ready to play some great tennis at the start of the season," said Koch, who compiled an 11-0 conference record this year and went 19-2 overall. "However, I did know that I would be playing my best tennis later on in the season.
"This season was a memorable time. I was looking forward to the beginning of the season as soon as the past year's season ended -- going in with the big goal that I need to win the district title this year," added Koch. "The tennis season was so gratifying. And in the end I felt great! Going all the way to states, wow!"
"I was very proud of how well Ben did this year. He was very coachable and willing to make adjustments," said Lewisburg coach Matt Barr. "He recognized the hard work he had to put in to succeed, and he went out and did it."
Koch needed his "A" game versus Towanda junior David Rodenhizer in finals of the district singles tournament, where he pulled out a hard-fought 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory that took nearly two and a half hours to get.
The big win came less than a week after Koch, a district singles semifinalist a year ago, fell to the Black Knight, 6-4, 6-2, in a first-round match of the District 4 team tournament.
"It felt great to complete that very, very long term goal successfully. Going into the final match, I was very nervous because losing to him the week before really did play a huge role in my tennis season there at the end," said Koch. "I knew I had to play my game. Losing in the semis last year was heartbreaking, because I really wanted to see what it was like to play at the state level and learn from it -- that way going into my senior year I would have a better idea going into states this year. But in the end, it all turned out very well and I am truly blessed to be where I ended up."
Following districts, Koch advanced to the quarterfinals of the PIAA Championships where he fell to eventual state champ Ricardo Saad of Wyomissing, 6-0, 6-0. In the first round he beat Thomas Jefferson's Jake Mascaro, 6-2, 6-2.
Despite the loss to Saad, the match was Koch's second-most memorable moment this year after his district singles title.
"That really was so much fun playing (Saad). He brings tennis to a new level and getting to play him and hit out with him was so much fun," said Koch. "Going into that match I had nothing to lose and I didn't lose anything that day. I had a lot of fun that day."
"As a player, I loved his love of the game. During his last match in the state tournament, he was up against the eventual PIAA champ. He knew it was going to be a tough match, but he came off the court saying, 'that was fun!'", said Lewisburg coach Matt Barr. "He enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to play at that high of a level.
"I also like his work ethic. When he lost against David in the team tournament, he didn't mope. He hit practice and was determined to give him a better match."
However, a No. 1 player is nothing without the support of those behind him. Koch had the luxury of having a talented bunch of players backing him up throughout the year as the Green Dragons claimed the Heartland Athletic Conference Division II title, the District 4 team title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the PIAA tournament.
"Playing with them really did take pressure off of me. I knew I could count on a victory from them, and the one that was really amazing was the (3-1) win against Scranton Prep (in the first round of states)," said Koch.
"My dad has always told me that no matter what I do in life, as long as I am enjoying myself nothing else matters (win or lose). At times this year I did really struggle and I got away from the fun because I was so focused on just winning. Towards the end I really decided that I need to pull myself together and I did. In the end it was a very fun year playing tennis this year."
n Coach of the Year
In just four years at Selinsgrove, Duke Fravel, the 2013 Coach of the Year, has turned a struggling program into a winning one.
This season the Seals went 15-2 overall and claimed the HAC-I title with a 13-1 mark. It was the team's first conference title since the mid-1990's.
During the season Selinsgrove claimed the Bloomsburg Tournament for the first time ever, and the Seals qualified for the district team tournament where the team was beaten 3-1 in the quarterfinals by Hughesville.
"It felt very good. Everything came together," said Fravel. "The boys have a strong desire to improve their games, and it was a lot of fun to watch that happen (this year)."
In six previous seasons, the most wins Selinsgrove had in one year was 10 back in 2011 during Fravel's second year with the team. In the three years prior to Fravel coming to Selinsgrove, the Seals won just nine matches and lost 33.
"I knew (success) would happen. It was just a matter of time and getting the guys into the right position," said Fravel. "It takes time to get the program where I want it to be.
"I was very pleased (with the season). It's another step in our progress of getting to our goal. Our ultimate goal is to win districts and win states."