Franklin Park girl serving up competitive tennis

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:05 p.m.

A rare devotion is paying off for junior tennis player Ava Catanzarite of Franklin Park.

Catanzarite, 10, was ranked 12th as of early October in the girls 12 combined division of the U.S. Tennis Association Middle States section, which covers Pennsylvania, Delaware, much of New Jersey and northwestern West Virginia. She ranked 253rd nationally.

She was one of 32 players selected to compete at the U.S. Tennis Association National Open in Springfield, Mo., in May.

Catanzarite, who has been playing since she was 5, trains at the Pennsylvania Tennis Academy in Wexford, where head professional Budi Susanto is impressed by her work ethic.

“She's special and different,” Susanto said. “You don't get talent like this every day.

“Ava is smaller in size, but she's athletic and very motivated. To get up in the morning and do running, stretching and jumping jacks, she has dedication you don't see too much in a player her age.”

Moving up in competition, Catanzarite got off to an impressive start by garnering wins in girls 14 singles at the Mercerized Open at Quaker Valley High School in Leetsdale and the Frick Park Red Clay Junior Open in Pittsburgh in June. She ranks 10th in girls 14 singles in the Allegheny Mountain District, which consists of players from western Pennsylvania and four counties in the West Virginia panhandle.

Last year, she ranked third in girls 12.

“Considering she was much younger (than other players), that's pretty impressive,” said Michael Gladysz, a spokesman for Middle States, which includes Allegheny Mountain.

Catanzarite finds being left-handed a great asset.

“I get a lot of spin on my shots,” said Catanzarite, who is working on making her left arm more powerful.

Catanzarite said Susanto has been helpful in preparing her mentally.

“I've been taught to never give up and to keep my cool,” Catanzarite said. “I don't get emotional.

“You'll never see me scream at myself.”

A fifth-grader at Ingromar Elementary School, Catanzarite is eager to share her knowledge with classmates.

“Ava is always asking when we're going to have something tennis-wise in gym,” said health and physical education teacher Dean Boronyak. “I've played with her, and she's showed me some grips.

“She's very modest and a great role model.”

Catanzarite's long-term goals are to play high school tennis for North Allegheny; college tennis at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.; and then become a professional player. The Tennis Recruiting Network, an online site that tracks potential college players, ranked her first among fifth-graders in the state in early October.

Catanzarite isn't the only standout in her family. Her sister Nora, 8, ranked 10th in girls 10 singles in Allegheny Mountain.

“Ava is a big inspiration,” Nora Catanzarite said. “We (practice) on our cul-de-sac.”

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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