Knoch, Fox Chapel tennis teams look to maintain success
The Knoch and Fox Chapel girls tennis teams each captured section championships last year, and individuals on those teams made deep runs in tournament play.
As the Knights and Foxes begin defense of their crowns, they understand there will be a number of challengers ready to try to knock them off the pedestal.
“I think we have the depth to challenge for the section title and make it back to WPIALs,” said Fox Chapel coach Alex Slezak, who saw his team finish 9-0 in Section 3-AAA and fend off the challenges of playoff qualifiers Shady Side Academy, Oakland Catholic and Baldwin.
The Foxes were the No. 2 seed for the team tournament but were surprised by Pine-Richland, 3-2, in the quarterfinals.
Knoch, which returns defending WPIAL Class AA singles champion Laura Greb and WPIAL bronze medalist Brooke Bauer among a group of five starters back, was 8-0 in Section 3-AA and bested Indiana (7-1), Burrell (6-2) and Derry (5-3) in the standings.
The Knights, as the No. 4 seed, advanced to the WPIAL team finals before losing to Sewickley Academy. Knoch went 1-1 at team states and lost in the quarterfinals.
“We want to take one match at a time, focus on one goal at a time and hope to improve on what we accomplished last year,” Knoch coach Nancy Conlon said. “It all starts in the section, and I think, from top to bottom, it’s the most competitive in AA. We all love that competitiveness, and it really prepares the kids for postseason play.”
Charlotte James, one half of the 2017 PIAA Class AAA champion doubles team with the graduated Amanda Nord, will not play for Fox Chapel as a junior as she concentrates on national junior tournaments and her college recruitment.
“It’s really impossible for her to play both the national tournaments and with (Fox Chapel),” Slezak said. “She was really conflicted and felt bad, but we wish her the best. The door is definitely open for her to return her senior year.”
With Nord and James out of the lineup, senior Kristen Friday said she is ready for the challenge at No. 1 singles.
“There will be a little more pressure at the No. 1 spot, but I am excited,” said Friday, the team’s No. 3 singles player last year. “It’s a new experience for me, but we have a lot of good people on this team, and I am excited to lead it.”
Added Slezak: “Kristen’s not only is a great player but a great role model for the rest of the team, especially our younger players.”
Fox Chapel went 16-2 last year, and the section title was its fourth in a row.
“We have had a number of things to figure out, but the team is coming together,” said Slezak, who also welcomes back sophomore starters Emily Fera (13-5 in doubles matches), and Molly Dean (11-7 in doubles).”
Senior Leah Fetting, a doubles starter as a freshman, returns after two years away while participating on the Fox Chapel crew team.
Also in Section 3-AAA, Plum has to replace multi-year starters Julia Lawrence (No. 1 singles) and Sommer Lewis (No. 2). Lawrence advanced to the section singles quarterfinals last year.
Kiski Area returns to Section 1-AAA, and Erica Stariha leads a large junior group at No. 1 singles.
“Erica is a pretty solid player,” Cavaliers coach Trent Goerk said. “She’s still learning but has good skills.”
Greb followed her WPIAL-title performance with a runner-up finish at the state championship. Bauer capped her freshman season as a PIAA quarterfinalist.
Also back for Knoch is senior Emma West at No. 3 singles and junior Libby Conlon and senior Alex Jaksec at No. 1 doubles.
“This is a pretty cohesive team that has the chance to do pretty well again this year,” Conlon said.
Indiana, Section 3 runner-up in 2017, will have to replace its No. 1 singles player as Kelsey Heckert graduated.
Burrell, who lost only to Knoch and Indiana in section play, hopes to make another playoff run in the section.
“There are some tough returning teams, so hopefully, things work out in our favor,” Burrell head coach Shawn Reddick said.
McKenzie White, who teamed with the graduated Julia McAllister to finish third in the Section 3 doubles tournament and make the WPIAL quarterfinals, will be the Bucs’ No. 1 singles player.
“I’m really excited to lead the team,” White said. “There is a little pressure because the competition is elevated, but I’m ready for the competition. I had a really good year last year, and I want to take the next step this year.”
Burrell’s No. 2 and No. 3 also are returning varsity starters in juniors Isabella Lane and Madyson Radvansky, respectively.
Several singles and doubles entries throughout the section, including those from Highlands, Deer Lakes and Riverview, are expected to be competitive.
Springdale’s Hannah Kern, a senior at No. 1 singles, advanced to the section singles quarters last year before losing to eventual champion Katherine Marks from OLSH.
“Hannah is a smart and consistent veteran player who has really worked hard on improving her overall game,” Springdale coach Bob Ochsenhirt said. “She’s a great leader for us.”
In Class AA and AAA, the top four teams and the top four finishers from the section singles and doubles tournaments advance to WPIAL play.
“Knoch has a really strong lineup and could make another run at the WPIAL title and also challenge for a state title,” said Valley coach Rachel Link, who welcomes back seniors Lauren Schrock and Haley Albright at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively. “I think the section, top to bottom, is the most competitive in WPIAL AA. The play should so competitive in each match.”