Yokopenic brothers serve up competition in tennis


Photo courtesy Elizabeth Klien

The Yokopenic brothers dominate in tennis together.

When one talented tennis player takes the court, the result may be interesting. But when two such players go head-to-head, the result can be unbelievable.

“It was one of the best tennis matches I’ve ever watched.” junior Nathaniel Philips said, speaking about junior Braden Yokopenic’s recent match against a standout player from Upper St. Clair, which turned into a two-and-a-half-hour nailbiter with constant shifts in momentum.

“It was a crazy match, 5-7 in the last set after over two hours. Either kid could have won, but we pulled out the short end of the stick,” boys tennis Coach Donna McCord said. “I’m confident that Braden will win next time.”

Yokopenic feels confident about his performance.

“It lasted two and a half hours because we both played very similarly, but I’ve played harder matches for sure and I think I could come out with a win the next time we play,” he said.

Yokopenic and his freshman brother, Leyton, have played tennis since a young age, and now they both have taken their skills to the varsity tennis team. 

“They definitely are hard workers,” Philips said of the brothers.

Braden, in particular, is more than a player; he also helps to motivate the team. He also is the first boys tennis player in years to reach WPIAL singles finals, which will take place next week.

“Braden is team leader and aids every kid on the team, and he always works his hardest and even recruited kids to our team,” McCord said. “Leyton is a kind, young, talented kid who also acts as a leader and takes after his brother.” 

Braden Yokopenic also teaches tennis lessons to younger kids.

“It’s something I can do with my extra time, and it’s a very special part of me that I love to do and I want to continue to do it for a while,” he said.

On the varsity tennis team, the brothers stand out. Constant competitors, they work hard to make each other better.

“I just need to keep practicing to get better and try and beat (Braden),” Leyton said of the brothers’ competitive nature. 

Braden agrees that the brothers push each other to get even better.

  “It’s pretty competitive because we won’t let each other get away with who beats who and rubbing it in,” Braden said. 

Given their competitive natures, both brothers excel on the court. 

“Their serve is phenomenal, both of them,” Philips said. “They’re both incredibly consistent players.”

Considering the small size of the team, Braden’s leadership has been essential, Leyton said. 

“(My brother) got most of his friends to come and play, and he helps them learn how to play and get better,” Leyton said. “He talks so like highly of (tennis), and it makes (our teammates) want to do it.”

Braden has lofty ambitions for his future and for the season. 

`“I’m hoping I can finish this season and make it to WPIALs and compete against the best,” Braden said.

To have two dominant tennis players on a small team is rare. To have two talented brothers is rarer. These talents were clear during their matches against USC.

“(Leyton and Braden) were so level-headed during their match,” Philips said. 

“(Braden and his opponent) were both like so evenly matched that it just like depended on who won the point at the time,” Leyton said. Baldwin lost the match 0-5, but Braden’s match was close.

“He just practices so much and is so consistent,” Leyton said. “It could have gone either way.”

According to Philips, level-headedness, consistency, and a great serve are the most important skills of a tennis player. 

“You cannot get frustrated.” Philips said. 

A great player, however, is more than the sum of these parts. 

In Philips’ view, there’s one intangible, necessary characteristic.

 “You’ve got to have that like killer mentality,” he said.

And if the Yokopenic brothers’ performances so far this season is any indication, this is no problem for either of them.

“We’ll get better, which is the most important thing,” Philips said of the team. And with talented players like the Yokopenic brothers, there’s reason for excitement.