The old saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” That couldn’t be anymore true when it comes to girls team tennis in District 9 as the St. Marys Lady Dutch have won an astounding eight straight team titles.
Last season saw the Lady Dutch top Punxsutawney in the finals, 4-1, albeit in a contest much closer than the score showed as a point or two in the other direction would’ve saw St. Marys’ streak snapped.
The eighth title broke a tie with crosstown rival Elk County Catholic for most team titles in a row — with ECC accomplishing its seven straight from 2000-06.
But while St. Marys continued its team dominance, overall parity was shown as Clearfield took the D-9 doubles title — the team’s first since 1978 — with Lindsey Kerlin and Peyton Reese and Punxsy’s Chloe Presloid won the D-9 singles title. However with last year being the final year in the high school careers of Kerlin, Reese and Presloid, it guarantees new champions will be crowned in doubles and singles.
Here is a closer look at the teams in the Tri-County Area:
To say the Lady Chucks will have a new look this season is an understatement, as veteran head caoch John Hawkins saw five of his seven players from a year ago graduate.
Gone are the likes of Taylor Rhed, Emma Miller and Leah Trunzo — the team’s top three singles players from last season — along with the duo of Reina Kahle and Alia Mosier, who helped fill out the doubles lineup.
Sophomore returnees Kassi Tucker and Hallie Welsh are now the grizzled veterans of the program. Tucker was the Lady Rovers’ No. 4 player as a freshman and also played alongside Trunzo in the District 9 doubles tournament, while Welsh was a mainstay in the doubles lineup.
“We lost our veterans from last year,” said Hawkins. “This year, we are looking to Hallie Welsh and Kassi Tucker to fill their large shoes. Both of these young ladies had great role models to learn from, and we are counting on them to lead the way. They made huge strides last year, and we look forward to them continuing where they left off.”
That duo will be called upon to help lead what will be an inexperienced roster as Brockway will fill out its roster with five new players — senior Angela Durle, sophomore Kaitlynn Knox and the freshmen trio of Maria Buttery, Abby Michalski and Jordan Sanchez.
“We are extremely excited to have five beginners join the team,” said Hawkins. “These players include freshmen Maria Buttery, Abby Michalski and Jordan Sanchez. All three freshmen are excited to play. Our newer upperclassmen include sophomore Kaitlynn Knox and senior Angela Durle. We could not be more happy with the attitude and determination all these players are bringing to the court.
“It’s going to be a learning type of year, but if we keep half of these ladies out we will be solid in a year or two. I’d have to say the present and future is looking very good for Brockway tennis”
The Lady Rovers open the season Monday at Punxsutawney.
Senior: Angela Durle. Sophomores: Kaitlynn Knox, Kassi Tucker, Hallie Welsh. Freshmen: Maria Buttery, Abby Michalski and Jordan Sanchez.
The Lady Chucks took St. Marys to the brink in the D-9 team finals a year ago, but they’ll have to regroup as they’ve lost its No. 1 and No. 3 singles players to graduation in Presloid and Brooke Skarbek. However, head coach Mike Emhoff will look to fill the void with some experienced players as well as underclassmen.
There are just two seniors on the Lady Chucks’ roster of 14, albeit both have plenty of experience and will be a crucial part of the team’s success this year.
Emily McMahan was the No. 2 singles player a season ago as she steps into the top spot for her senior campaign. Rachel Porada, who was on last year’s No. 1 doubles team in the D-9 team finals with the now-graduated Kaylin Smith, will step up to the No. 2 singles spot.
After that, Emhoff said things are up in the air as he expects the team’s two juniors in Mya Galentine and Leanne Zampini to be in the mix, as well as sophomores Lilly Gigliotti, Olivia Smith and Olivia Toven. Zampini and Toven comprised of last year’s No. 2 doubles team in the D-9 team finals.
That means exactly half of the Lady Chucks head into the 2023 season with no experience as they enter their freshman seasons. Not only will Punxsy have fresh faces out on the court, but Emhoff will have a “new” assistant coach this year in Lisa Good — who has been an assistant with Emhoff for the boys tennis team since 2018.
“She brings a wealth of knowledge from decades of coaching high school sports in Punxsutawney volleyball, track and field and tennis,” Emhoff said about Good. “I am sure that she will prove to be a huge asset to the girls team.”
But even with the lack of experience among the freshman, Emhoff expects them to contribute.
“We also have a freshman, Addison London, who is a strong player and will be getting time at singles,” Emhoff said. “The rest of the freshman have shown great improvement over the summer and coach Good and I are sure that as the season progresses, they will be seeing playing time in doubles.”
When you mix in the veteran leadership with the new faces, Emhoff feels the Lady Chucks have the potential to pick back up where they left off a season ago.
“We lost some strong players,” Emhoff said. “However, we have a very strong group returning from last year and with the addition of seven freshman, we are hopeful that we can continue to be a strong competitor in D-9.”
Punxsutawney opens the season Monday at home vs. Brockway.
Seniors: Emily McMahan, Rachel Porada. Juniors: Mya Galentine, Leanne Zampini. Sophomores: Lilly Gigliotti, Olivia Smith, Olivia Toven. Freshmen: Avrey Brownlee, Addison London, Rhonda Neal, Sailor Parks, Makila Rich, Allison Waltman, Emma Young.
While the Lady Dutch are going for nine straight D-9 team titles, nine is also the number of players they currently have as co-coaches Dave and Rona Lion will rely on the experienced players to help lead the way for the underclassmen.
“We anticipate our upperclassmen will provide leadership and set a great example for the younger players,” Dave Lion said.
As they’ve done in recent years, St. Marys will have to reload the top of its order as they lost last year’s top two singles players in Mya Klaiber and Caitlin Blessel along with June Chen, who was a part of the No. 1 doubles team with Maddy Wittman in the D-9 team finals.
The Lady Dutch will have two seniors in Rylee Nicklas and Wittman, as Nicklas was also on last year’s No. 2 doubles team in the D-9 team finals with Tralynn Ginther, one of two juniors on this year’s squad along with Roan Lion — the team’s No. 3 singles player a season ago.
They’ll also have four sophomores — all of which played as freshman — in Isolde Collins, Isabelle Farabaugh, Dannilyn Geitner and Sara Regulski. Making up the ninth and final spot on the squad is the lone freshman in Pilar Pfoutz.
So with expectations high as they typically are for the Lady Dutch, Dave Lion said the goals of the team this season are to “improve, stay healthy, have fun.”
“We hope to make many new friends and have great competition this season,” Dave Lion said. “It’s great to be back — the girls are excited to start match play.”
St. Marys starts the season Monday as they host Bradford.
Seniors: Rylee Nicklas, Maddy Whitman. Juniors: Tralynn Ginther, Roan Lion. Sophomores: Isolde Collins, Isabelle Farabaugh, Dannilyn Geitner, Sara Regulski. Freshmen: Pilar Pfoutz.
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Sports Editor Chris Wechtenhiser contributed to this story.