Crusader Aiden Roberts’ eye of the tiger

Beneath Aiden Roberts’ polite and composed demeanor lies a caged beast he only lets out when on the tennis court.

The Parkersburg Catholic tennis player’s competitive nature and a controlled fury explode out of him through his weapon of choice, a tennis racquet, aimed straight at his opponent. The display can be a little unnerving with Roberts still appearing in complete control throughout a match.

It is little surprise the Crusader sophomore has such a creature inside him once I found out his thrill for the fight.

“I love to be challenged,” said Roberts.

He certainly has faced a few of them during his two years as a member of the Parkersburg Catholic tennis team.

Roberts immediately inserted himself into the mix for the No. 2 seed with two 2017 state tournament finalists in junior Brendan Smith and senior Noah Chidester as a freshman. The lanky teenager didn’t need, nor apparently wanted, an adjustment period to the competition of high school tennis.

“He and Brendan were very, very close,” recalled Parkersburg Catholic coach Jason Discini of Smith and Roberts’ challenge matches for the No. 3 seed. “They kept challenging each other and they were epic marathons. I knew he (Roberts) had the capability to do it.”

Smith eventually took the upper hand and the No. 3 seed with Roberts assigned the No. 4 slot.

Like an NFL coach applying for a high school job, overqualified for the position may have been the best description for Roberts. Not surprisingly just like the NFL coach turned high school leader, every one of Roberts’ opponents would probably agree with this assessment. Charleston Catholic’s Chris Istfan was the only foe to put worry in him all season when the two faced in the state final.

After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, Roberts watched the Irish player as he pulled within 3-2. However, the beast was loosed over the next 10 games as the Crusader dropped just one more contest on his way to 6-3, 6-0 championship win.

There was little doubt Roberts gave himself full marks for his performance in his inaugural season, but he still had three years to go at Catholic.

He trained hard in the offseason to ready his body and mind for the next step of his journey.

Coincidentally, two new tests presented themselves as the 2018 season got underway back in March.

With the graduation of Chidester, No. 1 seed Nash Morris’ doubles partner, and Smith not returning to the team — Roberts knew he would be called upon to make some big adjustments right away.

“When Brendan left I was almost expecting to be No. 2,” said Roberts. “So I had to be prepared for that.”

Not only did he have to learn a whole new set of opponents, but he also was being placed on the top doubles’ team with Morris, a very demanding partner.

“I was a little bit worried,” said Roberts when asked about his big transitions. “I wasn’t sure who was graduating from other schools and I knew Noah had been pushed some in the regular season … so far the nerves have died down a bit.

“It is a little different from four seed last year. Kids were a little weaker and after a few shots they would eventually break down, but this year I am really having to concentrate a lot more and really pressure my opponents with harder shots, deep spins and approaching the net more.

For the most part, Roberts hasn’t been bothered by too many opponents this season. Outside of an 8-2 loss to Parkersburg High’s Seena Saadevandi, h has taken care of all of his regional and regular opponents.

“The player from Lincoln was a very heavy pusher and every ball came back high and deep, to my forehand especially – It was a really intense match,” said Roberts, who beat the Panther 8-2. “Each game was 40-30 or duece and I really had to focus and attack the kids backhand to be able to win. First time I have really been pushed at 2 seed so far.”

In doubles, Morris’ style of play wasn’t predictable as the senior enjoyed his trick shots and trickster mentality. “He can pull off shots you aren’t really expecting,” said Roberts. “You have to be ready to adapt to any shots he makes.”

So how does he think he has done with regionals just days away?

“I am pleased with the results so far this year,” said Roberts. “Everything is going pretty smoothly.”

Sentinements echoed by his coach Jason Discini.

“He has stepped up in a very big way,” said Discini. “He had big shoes to fill coming in and No. 2 competition is a little tougher but he has only dropped two or three games (against players he will see again in the postseason).”

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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