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Public Courts: Friendships cross school lines

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mark Cassis wore a T-shirt that said "state champions" across the front during his men's open doubles match on Monday at the Charleston Public Courts tennis tournament at Schoenbaum Courts in Kanawha City.As a former member of the Charleston Catholic tennis team, he probably has a few of those types of shirts in his wardrobe, but he wasn't the only player on the court with state tournament experience on Monday.In a battle of the Kanawha Valley's premier tennis squads, Cassis and long-time doubles partner Jad Malas dropped the first game and won the next 12 as the duo dispatched of George Washington alums Will Jones and Colton Murphy 6-1, 6-0 to advance to the semifinals.Cassis and Malas won the No. 1 doubles portion in each of the last two Class AA-A state championships, while Murphy and Jones fell in the semifinals of the AAA No. 3 doubles competition in 2012.Cassis also won the No. 1 singles title last year.Monday was the first time the Catholic pair had faced off against Jones and Murphy as a doubles tandem, but after some initial nerves, it was smooth sailing."The first game when I was serving, it was mostly my fault," Cassis said. "I was a little nervous out there but after that we settled down. [Malas] was playing really well." One would think when matchups between players of the two schools do happen, it would make for a natural rivalry.After all, the two schools separated by just 2.6 miles have combined to win 17 boys team championships since the competition split into two classes in 1995, with Catholic winning eight in a row and nine of the last 10 in AA-A.Heck, GW High School sits on Tennis Club Road.But in a competition as relaxed as the Public Courts, friendships tend to grow across school lines.
"We're all friends and I don't think me and the other two guys have been playing as much tennis,'' Malas said, "so it's a little bit less competitive but we still go out there and have fun. They're still really good players and it's a lot of fun to be out there."Cassis and Malas are playing together at the Public Courts for a third straight year and won the boys 18 doubles draw last year.Two years ago, they entered the men's open doubles competition and were dispatched of by the tandem of Neil Rajapakse and Scott Zent, one of the event's premier doubles teams.Rajapakse and Zent were busy on Monday as well, knocking off Dominick Centofanti and Zachary Koenig at the same time Cassis and Malas were taking care of business.
Those two wins set up a rematch a couple of years in the making as the young players will get a shot to redeem themselves at 8 p.m. Wednesday. They hope the time between the teams' last matchups will prove beneficial."We ended up being better than the people they played in the semifinals, so we gave them a good match," Malas said of the 2011 match. "It was competitive but they were controlling the net on us. Hopefully we got a little bit older and we'll be able to play better against them - maybe take it to them."Despite their tennis roots, neither Malas nor Cassis plans on playing tennis in college next year.Malas will attend the University of Virginia and Cassis West Virginia University, with Cassis adding he might try his hand at club tennis.Still, the Public Courts is an event both hope to return to for many years to come."I've been coming here since I was 6 or something and have been playing in it," Cassis said. "It's just great to see all the people come out old and young and even get people from out of state to play in it. It's a lot of fun."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948,, or follow him at 
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