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Freshmen help Franklin Regional tennis take charge of section

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional freshman Jenna Bailey lunges to hit a backhand return during the Panthers' section match at Penn-Trafford on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. Matt Grubba | Murrysville Star
Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional junior Sana Seth hits a forehand return during a doubles match against Penn-Trafford on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. Matt Grubba | Murrysville Star

Relying on freshmen usually isn't a good thing for varsity teams.

But for Franklin Regional girls tennis, it's a path that has made the team undefeated at midseason.

The Panthers completed the first half of their Section 1-AAA schedule Monday by going on the road and taking a 4-1 win over a Penn-Trafford team that was playing for a share of the section lead.

As has been the case all season to this point, Franklin Regional (7-0, 7-0) swept the three singles matches without dropping a set, which secured the win before the doubles teams even set foot on one of the three courts at Penn-Trafford (6-2, 5-2).

Freshman Natalia Perry defeated P-T sophomore Charlotte Vertes, 6-2, 6-1, in a possible preview of the section singles final; senior Lauren Bailey defeated Warriors senior Alexis Ryan, 6-2, 6-0; and freshman Jenna Bailey topped another P-T sophomore, Rachel Ford, 6-0, 6-0.

Franklin Regional's strength at the top of the lineup has been the key to its success, and that has the team poised to make a return to the playoffs after missing out in 2011.

“We're very excited that we're undefeated right now, and we've already played everyone (in the section) once, so we know that we are able to go undefeated for the whole season,” Lauren Bailey said. “We're hoping that we can carry this on and end the season undefeated.”

The elder Bailey, who last year was the No. 1 singles player for FR, and Perry are fortunate to be in a position where they are able to push each other in practice. While many teams have a No. 1 player who is far above the level of her teammates, Perry and Lauren Bailey, as well as younger sister Jenna Bailey, all have the ability to test each other during practice.

“I definitely benefit from being able to practice with Natalia,” Lauren Bailey said. “Just hitting ground strokes with her, I can feel myself getting stronger because I'm practicing with someone who's above my level.”

One thing Lauren Bailey has that her singles teammates don't is experience playing in a team setting. Most talented young players are used to playing for themselves in USTA events, but playing for a team brings a different set of pressures and emotions.

“I can help them with what the routine is like in a match and what to focus on,” Lauren Bailey said.

“We all support each other. You're definitely nervous at first (in a team match) because you realize there are other people counting on you. But it's also more exciting to get a team win because it's not just you. You get to celebrate with each other.”

Though Franklin Regional has yet to drop a singles match, its doubles team have been picking up wins, as well.

Against P-T, the doubles pair of juniors Victoria Zhang and Sana Seth squeaked out a close win over Melanie Loughner and Hanna Phillips, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7). Senior Grayce Behnke and junior Brittany Weiner fell in their doubles match against Dana Kelly and Sarah Rupchack of the Warriors, 7-5, 6-3.

In addition to those players, juniors Hayley Lee and Manal Piracha also have featured in doubles matches for coach Howard Fisher's lineup, which gives the Panthers a great mix of depth and strength at the top.

The Panthers had one other match scheduled for this week, a section contest at home against Norwin on Wednesday, after this edition's deadline.

Franklin Regional again is hosting the section singles tournament, which begins at noon Thursday. Perry will be the top seed for the tournament, and both she and Lauren Bailey will have a shot to reach the WPIAL tournament as one of the top three finishers.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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