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Hempfield girls tennis looks to defend Section 1 title

| Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

Hempfield is the team to beat this year after holding the Section 1-AAA tennis title two years in a row, including last season's championship that came after a 12-0 run in the section.

The Spartans will have to do so without six players lost to graduation, including Danielle Falo, who was undefeated at third singles.

“We are in the same position we were in last year,” coach Jerry Way said. “Everybody on the returning team and the freshmen are playing new positions. That's not concerning me as far as the talent level of this year compared to last year.”

Way will return several key players this year, including sophomore Madison DeBone and senior Carly Bryan, who will fill the first and second singles spots, respectively. Last year, the pair performed in first doubles, suffering one loss to Latrobe in a third-set tiebreak.

“It's exciting, but also nerve-racking too,” DeBone said about the change. “It's a lot of pressure, and I have a lot to hold up for the team.”

Both girls have spent time preparing for the new challenge.

“I'm adjusting by practicing 24/7 with my team ... moving the ball around a lot,” Bryan said. “Madison and I just really need to get our heads on so we can have a really good season in singles.”

Junior Emily Bevington and senior Hailey Rodgers will fill first doubles.

“There is no doubt this year that the girls I have can play tennis,” Way said. “Now, playing the new positions and trying to get themselves acclimated to singles from doubles, and some girls that were exhibition players playing in the starting lineup (is what I'm not sure of yet).

“I know them all. I know they're abilities, but how they respond to the match play as we move along would be the key for me as a coach. “

Way has coached the Hempfield tennis team for 12 years and is also a tennis instructor, hosting summer clinics that most of the girls have attended. He attributes the team's success to the girls' desire to succeed and a little healthy competition.

“We have a very competitive team,” Bryan said. “We are all really good players. It's hard; you have to stay focused 24/7 and not let your guard down. We also have a very tough section, and the other schools have good players, so every single match is complete seriousness and focus.”

Despite his own itch to win, Way has another goal for his team during their high school career.

“My goal is to make them happy to play tennis,” Way said. “Yeah, it's a serious thing because it's a high school sport, but I want the girls to have fun. I realize they are high school players and there is a lot more to life that they are going to encounter than high school tennis.”

Brittany Goncar is a freelance writer.

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