By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT -- A typical day at the District 4 singles tennis tournament can last upwards of seven to eight hours for those players fortunate enough to reach the quarterfinals.
The trick for surviving a grueling three-match first day is to get on and off the courts as quickly as possible to conserve energy.
Lewisburg senior Ben Koch was a model of efficiency during Saturday's early rounds. He didn't lose a single game and won all three of his matches by identical 6-0, 6-0 scores to advance to the semifinals for the second consecutive year.
"I told Ben, especially for the first match or two, just to get on and off the court because it's a long day, and try to do the best to win the match and get through it as efficiently as he could," said Lewisburg coach Matt Barr. "He did a good job of doing that."
In the first round, not only was the No. 2-seeded Koch battling Liberty's Dakota Alexyn, but he was also battling his nerves. However, by the time he defeated Hughesville's Mitchel Thomas in round two, nerves were no longer an issue for Koch.
"I came out really nervous. I didn't know how well I was going to play, but things kind of came together as the day progressed," said Koch. "I felt better and better each match. I got my footwork down and I started to play much better."
Koch's confidence was clearly evident in his quarterfinal match versus Danville senior Steven Zhang, the No. 7 seed, who he beat in under 45 minutes.
"That felt great. I thought that was going to be very competitive and probably one of the toughest matches that I would have overall," said Koch. "But I just kept my composure, moved my feet and I played great."
Prior to the match with Koch, Zhang played solidly in rounds one and two. He opened with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Shikellamy's Bobby Dalius before he beat Selinsgrove's Brady Fries, 6-3, 6-2.
But against Koch, Zhang couldn't get his game going to mount much of an attack.
"Pretty much everything wasn't working. I entered the match a little bit underconfident and that definitely hurt my serve because I need to keep my racket speed up to make sure everything is going solid," said Zhang. "Ben pressures me unlike all the other opponents I've played this year. He puts a lot of spin on the ball, he makes very few errors and he has such a strong mental game to follow it up.
"I really think he has a shot to win (the title) this year," added Zhang.
In addition to Koch, the Green Dragons had senior Kerry Shutt advance to the quarters, but the No. 8 seed fell to top-seeded David Rodenhizer of Towanda, 6-0, 6-0.
In the first two rounds Shutt beat Liberty's Andrew Nadas, 6-0, 6-1; and then Bloomsburg's Dylan Everhart, 6-3, 6-0.
"We're very proud of (Kerry). We knew he had a pretty favorable draw and the first match wasn't hard, but the second one he had to work for," said Barr. "Rodenhizer is good, and he played very well."
The only other Valley player to reach the second round was Milton senior James Jones. He first beat Central Columbia's Joe Todd, 6-4, 7-5, before falling to No. 4 seed Bryce Jones of South Williamsport, 5-7, 6-0, 6-1.
The semifinals and finals are Monday at West Branch Racquet Club beginning at 2 p.m.
In the semis Koch will face the winner of the quarterfinal match between No. 3 Caleb Vuocolo of Loyalsock and No. 6 Chandler Mastin of Cowanesque Valley.
Should he win that match, Koch would set up a possible rematch with Rodenhizer -- the only player that has beaten the Green Dragon this year. The loss (6-4, 6-2) came in the District 4 team tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday.