HERSHEY — Will Wanner had to leave Lancaster Mennonite in order to return and dominate.
Wanner did not play high school tennis last season, his junior year. Instead, the Mennonite ace took online classes set up through Conestoga Valley and invested the rest of his time in his tennis game. Wanner went hard into training at Legacy Youth Tennis and Education, a center in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia.
He emerged from the sabbatical a different player.
"I had some really good coaching there and the players are really good, so being in that environment helped my tennis," Wanner said. "I think the majority of it was being in that environment where everybody is so good, you can't get away with anything. You have to know what shots you have, which ones you don't; what shots work, which ones don't. I learned pretty quickly and learned how I was going to win my matches."
The Lancaster-Lebanon League and District Three found out how much different a player Wanner was upon his return.
Unbeaten during league play this spring, Wanner steamrolled through all competition at the District Three Class 2A tournament at Hershey Racquet Club this weekend. He capped the two-day affair with a 6-0, 6-1 rout of Lancaster Country Day freshman Jonah Rebert in the 2A final Saturday afternoon to win the gold medal.
Wanner — as he had done throughout all four rounds —dominated his opponents with sublime, precise shotmaking and a service game that was consistently on point. He seemed to know exactly where he wanted to go with his shot before he struck it. He went the entire tournament without being broken. He dropped just three games total during his ride to gold.
There was little Rebert — a talented LCD freshman who will be heard from down the road — or anyone else in Wanner's path could do.
It was tennis on a mission. It looked, felt and played the part.
"I was really focused, I didn't hesitate in playing and I knew what I wanted to do," Wanner said. "Knew how to beat who I was playing, was really committed to it and it all went well."
It is not as though Wanner needed a major retool of his game; he made the District Three final as a sophomore at Mennonite, so the natural talent base was there. But the player who emerged on the other side was a suffocating, demoralizing shot-placement machine to everyone he faced.
"While it was difficult not to have him on my team his junior year, I can see the results of his hard work," Mennonite coach Dennis Mast said. "His game is totally different. He's got everything under control. He has so much more power, so much more placement, spin and it seems his net game is fantastic when he moves in. He does it with lots of confidence. It's fun to see him playing on this level and dominating."
Rebert, who was LCD's No. 1 during the year, displayed a world of talent in his district debut, though a potential gold medal will have to wait for now.
"It was almost impossible," Rebert, 15, said of the finals match. "If I control the point, if I'm up in the court, he can just lob it back and hit me on the baseline. I'd never played someone to that level. Your goal coming into a match like that is having a close match, rather than even winning it, when someone's at that level. In the match, I wanted a 6-3, 6-3. I didn't play that great and Will played better than I had seen him (before).
"It was exciting to get this far. It's exciting to be a part of that."
Wanner started his afternoon with a 6-0, 6-1 conquest of Rebert's Country Day teammate, George Markley, in the semifinals.
Markley, however, became LCD's second state qualifier when he defeated Ethan Rothermel of Brandywine Heights in the third place match, 6-3, 0-6, 7-5. Markley battled back, two points from elimination at 4-5, 15-30 in the third set, to reel off three straight games and clinch the final PIAA berth.
"I'm very happy," Markley, a sophomore said, "to be going to states with one of my teammates. It's very unlikely to have two kids from one school qualify for state."
Markley re-set his mind after a forgettable middle set against Rothermel.
"I just had to put that behind me," he said. "It's all about mental toughness, so you have to just block out everything going on around you. Once that second set finished, I had to start with a blank slate. … I had to really fight back. It feels great to be able to move on."
Rebert had beaten Rothermel 6-2, 6-2 earlier Saturday in the other 2A semifinal.
In 3A, Dallastown sophomore Holden Koons won his second consecutive district title Saturday with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Cedar Crest's Nick Tull. Palmyra's Ben Clary, last week's Mid-Penn Conference champion, became the third state qualifier in 3A when he beat Hershey's Dante Falcucci 6-4, 6-4 in that bracket's third-place match.