RICHLAND — After his sophomore season, Hatboro-Horsham's Dylan Ashbach was burned out on tennis.
"I just starting trying new things,' he said. "And I just ran cross country and track. And the sport kind of came to me, I loved it and I just didn't play tennis for a year.'
But Ashbach came back to the courts for the Hatters this year as a senior and proved the decision to return to the sport was the right one Friday afternoon. He claimed the Suburban One League Continental Conference singles championship with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Pennridge's Chandat Phan at Tennis Zone.
"Every since I came back I had in my eye that I had the possibility of winning a league championship. And knowing that a couple of the guys like (North Penn's Mike) Buxbaum, (Central Bucks East's Connor) Peckham left the conference this year, I thought if I really play my game the way I can play it, then I can be league champion. So it means so much to me.'
Ashbach, who finished third at Continental singles as a sophomore, earns a second trip to the District 1-AAA Championship, with Phan and Central Bucks West freshman Brad Johnson — who bested CB East's Sean Kimball 6-2, 6-2 in the consolation final — also qualifying. Kimball has a chance to make the district field as a wildcard.
Ashbach is the first SOL Continental singles champ not from North Penn since the current conference alignment began in the 2009 season. The Knights' Sri Srinivasan won that season, with Mike Buxbaum taking the title the past four years.
"I feel good. This whole season for me I've been playing kind of shaky,' Ashbach said. "I've been uncertain and I little bit nervous. Coming into the tournament, I just let it play out. Yesterday, I played really well — played strong, consistent. My first match I was nervous, but I played well and today I just said to myself if I do what I need to do, I can walk away victorious. And I did.'
The first four rounds of the District 1-AAA singles are April 25-26 with the final and consolation May 10. All matches are at the Healthplex in Springfield, which the top four finishers advances to the PIAA Championship.
"I got nothing to lose, it's my senior year. I'm just going to try and have fun,' Phan said. "Whoever I play, I'm going to play my hardest.'
Phan missed out on districts by taking fourth last year, but clinched his spot by outlasting Johnson in a marathon semifinal 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6).
"I just kept it in, remembered what I learned from all practice and just tried to hit the best I could,' Phan said.
The match with Johnson was the second lengthy contest at SOL Continentals for Phan, who opened Thursday with a 6-7 (3-7), 6-1, 6-0 over CB East's Christian Cederlund.
"Yesterday, I had a draining match, too. It was a three-setter. And then I had a match after that and then this (semifinal) match just dragged on for like three hours,' he said. "And by the time I played Dylan, my arm was thrown and my legs were tired.'
Johnson bounced back from the tough defeat with a straight-set victory to grab bronze in his first appearance in the conference championship.
"I was seeded third in this tournament and I ended up coming out third, so that was pretty interesting,' Johnson said. "Dylan and (Phan) are really great players, so I'm excited for districts.'
After defeating Kimball 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals, Ashbach used a fast start to grab the momentum in the final, then kept the nerves away late to seal the match.
"He's a great guy, he's a great competitor. Him and I have been really good friends for the past four years. We chatted it up on the changeover, ' said Ashbach of Phan. "I think I played strongly. In the end I got a little tense, a little nervous, but that's understandable.'
Ashbach is set on improving on his last trip to districts in 2012, ended with a first round lost to Wissahickon's Ricardo Prince, who is now on the Lehigh men's team.
"I'm hoping that I can get a good seed into the tournament. Maybe get a fourth or fifth seed and get a good draw,' he said. "Hopefully third round, the third round's a big goal. That'd be a big thing for me.'
Follow Mike Cabrey on Twitter @mpcabrey.