First-year players bolster Penn Hills girls tennis lineup
Though a lack of tennis courts and overall interest in the sport continue to be issues for the Penn Hills girls tennis team, the program still continues and looks to teach valuable life lessons.
The Indians, who were winless last season, are showcasing three returning starters and five first-time tennis players.
In singles, the Indians, who practice and play at Boyce Park, are led by senior Christina Marra at first singles, sophomore Sabrice Turner-Johnson at second singles and senior Jenna Wilkes at third singles.
The Indians have five players competing in doubles, including sophomores Makayla McClendon and Nicole Caldwell at first doubles, and sophomores Ayanna Mallory and Ayalladira Maina at second doubles. Sophomore Shannon Lockridge also will see some time in doubles action.
Penn Hills has suffered losses to Woodland Hills, Oakland Catholic, Fox Chapel and Bethel Park so far this season.
Since Penn Hills doesn't have a feeder program, the three returning players had to generate interest around school to join the team by word of mouth.
“The three girls from last year's team told the girls how great the sport is and how much fun it is,” coach Jack Kowalski said.
Because the five new players are all sophomores, Kowalski hopes to see progression in their game through their remaining time in high school just like the three returning players.
“It's like night and day. They started out just like these other girls that never played tennis before,” Kowalski said. “Christina started to play her with older brother, who was on the team years ago. But the other girls played for the first time and have turned themselves into good tennis players.”
Even if the Indians might not see results in the win column, Kowalski wants to make sure the girls still take important life lessons out of tennis.
“I keep telling my girls they are all winners, and the losers are (the) quitters,” Kowalski said.
The Indians also are learning about Kowalski's three key principles that can be carried through life — sacrifice, pride and motivation.
Kowalski, who is 80 years old, usually plays tennis at Boyce Park at least three times a week.
But he hasn't been able to play the sport that he loves because he tore the meniscus in his knee earlier this year and has been rehabbing since. Prior to his injury, Kowalski was playing Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon with a group of his friends.
As a child, Kowalski played baseball at Central Catholic but when it was time for college, he had to find a sport he could play on his own.
“I was playing with my sisters in Lawrenceville. My buddies were all going to different colleges so I was looking for a sport that was individual because getting a team together was tough,” Kowalski said.
Kowalski has been coaching for close to two decades and loves the impact he can have on young people's lives.
“I love it, and it gives a lot of satisfaction to help others out and let them grow as tennis players,” Kowalski said.
“They are a good bunch of girls. They work hard and want to win.”
Andrew John is a freelance writer.