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Thanks in large part to inexperience, the Southmoreland girls tennis team managed just five victories last season.
Third-year coach Jim Kessler thinks this year's squad is ready to make a run at the postseason.
“We were preparing for this year,” he said. “Last season, we had mostly freshmen and sophomores, and we knew going into the season that we were probably going to have a chance to win four or five matches. And we beat the teams that we were supposed to beat. So, actually it was a good year in that sense. But this year we need to step it up. This year we have a pretty good shot at making the playoffs. That's our goal.”
Two juniors sit at the top of Southmoreland's lineup — returning No. 1 singles player Ashley Belzer and Marissa Luden at No. 2.
“Ashley has a lot of power,” Kessler said. “She strikes the ball well. She's been taking lessons and really working on her game. ... That experience from last year really has helped her.”
Luden is another player who likes to put in a lot of practice time.
“I always see her at the park with her basket of balls,” Kessler said. “She takes her game seriously.”
Clarissa Horak saw action at both Nos. 1 and 2 doubles last year. This season, she may be Southmoreland's ace in the hole.
“She should be really strong at third singles,” Kessler said. “Most of the schools we play, when you get down to the third singles, there's really a drop-off in talent. That's not the case with Clarissa.”
It appears Justina Jacquillard and Jae Pawlikowsky will form the No. 1 doubles team. Kessler said there are several girls in the running for No. 2 doubles.
Kessler said he expects Derry, Greensburg Central Catholic and Mt. Pleasant to be among the top teams in Section 1-AA. If last year's experience pays dividends, Southmoreland could be in the mix.
“The girls have the talent,” Kessler said. “They know how to play tennis. They have good skills. We need to come together as a team.
“We need to play as a team and get along.”
Dave Stofcheck is a freelance writer.
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