Standing across from South Williamsport's Maria Cioffi on the other side of the net was Lewisburg's Peter Csernica, the only boys tennis player who beat Cioffi on the court this season. And standing between the district's two top tennis players was a gold medal.
Cioffi's no stranger to wearing the gold medal. She was the reigning two-time District 4 Class AA girls singles champion before a car accident last year forced her to miss the girls season with five fractures in her pelvis. She could have called it a career, but instead played on the boys side this spring.
"People had told me before the season started I didn't have any chance against her," said Csernica.
Cioffi beat every boy she's played this season, including rolling through districts, and she split two matches with Csernica before Monday. Both were accustomed with each others' game, and Cioffi knew that Csernica likes to get close to the net.
Csernica did just that and returned a shot to Cioffi, who returned it to her left. When Csernica swung at the return, all he could do was watch as the ball bounced off his racket and landed just a few feet in front of him, giving Cioffi both the game and set.
It also gave Cioffi a 6-2, 6-3 win over Csernica and the District 4 Class AA boys singles tennis title at the West Branch tennis club. The championship made Cioffi the first girl in District 4 history to win a boys tennis title. She joins Sarah Shashura (California, 2010) and Annie Houghton (Quaker Valley, 2006) as girl tennis players to win in the boys field in Pennsylvania.
"I'm happy to have won," Cioffi said. "There's a point on the court when you're up and you just know you have to close it out. You start feeling like you're going to win, but you just have to control it (the emotion). It feels good."
Cioff knew that Csernica was a fast, consistent player and tough to tire, and she knew it would come down to playing the way she's played throughout the whole tournament.
"(Playing) base line and a lot of spin off the court (are my strengths)," Cioffi said. "When I played Ben (Koch in the semifinals), we were hitting the ball really hard, so it was more of a pace game, but with Peter, it's more strategy."
Cioffi never trailed in either set Monday against the 2011 District 4 Class AA boys champion and played with hustle, not allowing Csernica to place any strategic shots. Anytime Csernica moved near the net, Cioffi respond numerous times with shots just out of Csernica's reach.
Cioffi moved Csernica around throughout, attempting to fatigue him and kept hitting hard returns, not letting Csernica get any lobs near the net.
"Against her, it's harder to get to the net because she doesn't give you anything easy," Csernica said. "She hits really good shots even when I'm at the net, so every point has to be well played in order to win, and she doesn't make mistakes other than that."
In the first set, Cioffi took a 3-0 lead before Csernica finally won a game. Csernica made it interesting in the second set when it was just a 2-1 Cioffi lead, but the senior Mountie responded by taking the next two games to go ahead 4-1.
"I thought I played pretty well, but I got off to a bad start in both the sets and that made it really difficult," Csernica said. "I was already down like 3-0 or 4-1 before I really got into the set kind of, so that made it difficult to claw back and there were some long games in there too, but it was just tough. I got myself in such a hole and it's tough to get out of it against a really good player."
Both Cioffi and Csernica advance to the boys' singles state tournament later this month, and Cioffi has a chance to make history if she can place in the top four, something that no girl player has ever done in the boys tennis field, according to the PIAA. Cioffi also is committed to playing women's tennis at Bucknell.
"Definitely hope I can make it that far, but I didn't make it that far in the girls bracket," Cioffi said. "I just wanna go and play and have fun."
Peter Csernica, Lewisburg, def. Caleb Vuocolo, Loyalsock, 6-0, 6-3. Maria Cioffi, South Williamsport, def. Ben Koch, Lewisburg, 6-1, 6-2.
Maria Cioffi, South Williamsport, def. Peter Csernica, Lewisburg, 6-2, 6-3.