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Plum tennis team hoping for WPIAL playoff trip in '12

| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, 1:00 p.m.

For the second year in a row, the Plum varsity girls tennis team came close to earning a WPIAL Class AAA playoff spot.

The 2011 squad finished 7-7 in section play, tied with Gateway for fourth place and one win away from the playoffs. Shaler, at 8-6, wrapped up the third playoff spot behind WPIAL powers Fox Chapel and Shady Side Academy.

Four starters from last year's team graduated, including multi-time WPIAL and state champion Ronit Yurovsky, who now is playing at the University of Michigan.

"We'll definitely miss her," Plum head coach Lori Senkewitz said. "It will be a different season without her. It will be some hard shoes to fill."

Also graduating were singles starters Alison Kuhn and Vanessa DiClaudio and No. 1 doubles player Courtney Lawhorne.

But Senkewitz said the three returning starters - seniors Christen Kraemer and Julie Lester and junior Brittney Sembower - are ready to lead the team.

Kraemer and Lester are the team captains. All three returning starters represented Plum at last year's Section 3 Doubles Tournament.

"They have been vying for the top three spots," Senkewitz said.

Kraemer and Lester will be varsity starters for the third season.

Sembower played on JV as a freshman and became a varsity starter last season. She played No. 1 doubles with Lawhorne.

Senkewitz said it's been encouraging to see the younger girls step up.

"I see a lot of improvement in their games," she said. "They've been working hard over the summer."

Senkewitz rolled tryouts and conditioning into one program during last week's first set of practices, and both the varsity and junior varsity teams took shape in advance of their first Section 3-AAA match, scheduled for Friday at 3:30 p.m. against Fox Chapel at the Plum High School courts.

"I basically told them that anybody is in the running for any spot," Senkewitz said. "Just like Ronit. She was an incoming freshman and took the top spot. It's based on talent and ability. Everyone has to prove themselves."

Senkewitz said to watch out for freshman Emily Yester, who is expected to move into one of the slots on varsity.

"I've seen her in the summer program, and she has a lot of natural talent and capabilities," Senkewitz said.

Senkewitz said her team is ready to challenge for a playoff spot.

"I've seen so much improvement," she said.

"It will be a challenge, but I really think they have a chance. There is a really strong camaraderie among the players, and they are working hard together. They can root for each other, push each other and work hard together to get there."

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