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Burrell girls tennis off to quick start

| Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, 12:16 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Jessica Linza returns a shot during tennis practice at Burrell High School on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

With seniors Jessica Linza and Emily Feroce its only returning starters, the Burrell girls tennis team had five roster spots to fill from graduation losses.

The mix the Buccaneers relied on to fill the holes included some unique ingredients.

Here is the recipe: Two spots were filled by returning upperclassmen Zoe Zentner and Natalie Artman, one by freshman Emma Hough, another by junior basketball standout Jaila Manga, and the final spot by junior Amanda Linden, one of three volleyball players added to this year's roster.

Despite its uncommon makeup, Burrell has enjoyed a fast start. The Bucs were undefeated until losing on Thursday, 4-1, to Section 4-AA contender Indiana.

Prior to the defeat, the Bucs ran up a record of 6-0 and none of its players had dropped a set in section play.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Burrell coach Jeri Tutolo said. “There's still a lot for them to learn, but they're picking up the game now.”

The Bucs are led by the technique-driven Linza, who assumed the No. 1 singles spot after excelling at doubles last season.

“Jessica has always been good,” Tutolo said. “She has a good shot and she hits hard. She can't way more than 90 pounds, I swear, but she always hits hard.”

Linza, who took lessons to hone her game over the summer, has found the injection of new talent into the roster refreshing. She feels the cohesiveness of team tennis has helped players adapt quickly.

“There's never cliques, there's never hostility,” she said. “Everybody's rooting for everyone. In other sports, girls can be nasty, rude. Tennis is one where you can expect to be who you are.”

And she feels that environment helped players such as Manga and Linden develop into valuable contributors.

“Not that I think anything less of the girls this year than last year, but some of them just picked up a racket this year, and you're like, ‘They won? Wow, that's awesome,' ” she said.

Feroce, who plays No. 2 singles, has been equally impressed.

“They have really good attitudes and they're very athletic, so that helps (make up for inexperience),” she said.

Linza and Feroce have found joy in watching their new teammates — who admittedly carried lower expectations than last year's — blossom.

“When these girls came in, I wasn't sure if they were going to take it that seriously. You know, they love their volleyball. This isn't their sport. Are they going to take it seriously?” Linza said. “But they came in and took it very seriously. ...It's amazing to watch them grow and get better.”

Stephen Catanese is a freelance writer.

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