Peters Township tennis hopes to defend titles

| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, 11:28 p.m.

Stephanie Smith, Sara Komer and the Peters Township girls tennis team ruled last year. They were supposed to rule this year.

Smith, however, isn't playing with the varsity because of conflicts with national tournaments and Komer is dealing with a tender hamstring.

A team that loses its top player for the season and, possibly, its No. 2 briefly could spell trouble. But this is Peters, where they retool and opponents are usually the ones in peril.

“One of our strengths the past few years has been depth,” coach Brandt Bowman said. “We have some kids who would start elsewhere but don't start here. Our JV team is good as some varsity teams.”

With Smith and Komer, Peters would be an overwhelming favorite to repeat as WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA champion. They are among the elite players in the WPIAL, along with senior Annie Baich and junior Callie Frey of Mt. Lebanon, Pine-Richland junior Marlys Bridgham, North Allegheny junior Kylie Isaacs, Penn-Trafford sophomore Charlotte Vertes and Quaker Valley senior Spencer Caravaggio.

Even without Smith, Peters should be a powerhouse. Three other starters return from a squad that went 22-0 en route to its second PIAA title in three years and third in six. And those starters had young talent behind them.

“Last year's team was stacked from 1 to 7,” Bowman said.

Smith is vying for a spot in the U.S. Open. She and Ron Mercer, her mixed doubles partner and personal coach, are competing this week in a USTA national qualifier for the Open. They got there by winning at the Middle States Sectional Championships in West Virginia.

At the scholastic level, Smith was nearly unbeatable in 2011. She and Komer won WPIAL and PIAA doubles championships, and Smith finished third in WPIAL singles.

Komer, when healthy, will replace her at No. 1. She injured the hamstring earlier this summer, recovered, then tweaked it while chasing a ball last week. Bowman said she is rehabbing the injury and may return soon.

For now, freshman Chloe Grzyb is playing first singles. She was born in England and has justified her reputation as a quality player. She and the singles pecking order will drop when Komer returns.

Vida Komer, a senior, is at second singles and sophomore Abby Cummings third. When Sara Komer is healthy, her sister, Vida, will be No. 3 and Cummings will play No. 1 doubles, her position last season.

Cummings has recovered from two hip surgeries within six months, the most recent during the winter.

“She just started playing full speed five weeks ago and seems to be well,” Bowman said.

The doubles teams will be sophomores Jen Holcombe and Caryle Campagna and sophomore Morgan Parisi with Megan Hixon, a freshman. Junior Jen Stroyd and sophomores Christen Sollon and Meredith Rohn should get playing time.

Despite the initial adversity, Bowman is upbeat about the future — and not just the upcoming season.

He has a valid reason, saying “We have one senior on the varsity.”

Rick Shrum is a freelance writer.

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