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Latrobe girls tennis begins season 'Kissell free'

| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

This year marks the beginning of a Kissell-free era for Latrobe tennis.

“This is my first year without a Kissell on the team,” said Jon Mains, head varsity girls tennis coach. “The Kissell girls are still leaving their mark because they really got the younger girls interested in tennis. The (girls) saw how well they were performing and wanted to go out and do the same.”

The graduation of Stacia Kissell, the youngest of three, ends a legacy at Latrobe High School.

The three sisters, including Michaela and Joelle, combined to win 25 section, WPIAL and PIAA championships from 2003-11.

Alone, Stacia won six of those championships, including the Section 1-AAA singles title in 2010 and 2011 and the section doubles title from 2008-11. She helped Latrobe to a 9-3 mark in Section 1 last season and will be missed this year.

In addition to Stacia Kissell, Mains lost seven starters to graduation and is looking to rebuild, but the returning players aren't worried.

“We did lose a lot of seniors, which has been rough on the team because they were very strong players, but we gained a lot of new experience,” returning senior Brittney Gaia said. “Even though they aren't older, a lot of the younger players are still really good this year. We are just hoping to, instead of relying on all of the seniors to pull through, to just be a more well-rounded team.”

One of those youngsters is sophomore Anna Wears, who is filling Stacia Kissell's No. 1 singles spot. Niki Kusy opens the season at second singles. The doubles pairs will be much harder to arrange. In a 5-0 win over Connellsville last week, Blaire Barnhart played third singles. Senior Laura Toman and Gaia will most likely fill the first doubles spot. Against Connellsville, Mary Beth Bobula and Bella Lane played second doubles.

“I'm getting there, I can't say for certain I'm there, but I can say I'm about 70 percent there,” Mains said. “It's hard. Finding the right doubles teams is always a challenge every year. Finding the girls that play well together. It takes pretty much the first two weeks of practice that we have before I get that right.”

Fortunately, the Wildcats are all on the same page when it comes to their goal of regaining the Section 1-AAA title and how they must accomplish it.

“We're going to have to pull together as a team and be a well-rounded competitor like Hempfield,” Toman said. “We can't just rely on one person to carry the team.”

Kissell or no Kissell, Latrobe is determined to win.

Brittany Goncar is a freelance writer.

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