Weather pushes back start of Section 1 tennis
As the season turns to spring, boys tennis will hit the courts as the first spring sport to start its season — or so the schedule says.
Play in Section 1-AAA tennis was slated to begin on Monday, but rainy weather pushed back the section openers for Norwin, Franklin Regional and defending section champ Penn-Trafford to later this week, after this edition's deadline.
Capturing a playoff berth is a primary goal for all three of the Star-area teams, but all three will face tough competition from last year's other two playoff qualifiers, Kiski Area and Latrobe, as well as Hempfield, Connellsville and Greensburg Salem, who round out the section.
Below is a look at how each team stacks up entering section play:
The Knights struggled with injuries last season, as a 3-3 start wasn't enough to keep Norwin from falling out of position for a playoff spot.
The by-product of last year's injuries was an opportunity for Norwin to use younger players in its lineup, and the experience they gained during last season could pay off with wins this year.
“We started 3-3, but we got hit by that wave of injuries and had some guys leaving the team,” Norwin coach Ryan Hornick said. “This group came back in the summer and worked hard, and I think it's going to be a pretty successful year because of that.”
Senior Tyrell Greenwood and sophomores Mitch Atkins and Nate Alford would have been Hornick's three singles players if the team played its opener against Franklin Regional as scheduled on Monday, while senior Nick Morgart also could be a singles or doubles player as Norwin's season progresses.
Junior Jesse Hooke, senior Jorden Hill and Peer Braak, an exchange student from Germany, all will play a part in Norwin's lineup, while junior Ben Yenerall, sophomore Jordan Walk and freshman Davis Kuhn are among the other players Hornick will be able to draw from for his varsity team.
“It's big with the younger kids from last year that they had a chance to play (at the varsity level),” Hornick said. “It gives them that much more of an advantage this year by having that knowledge of how to play the game.”
Hornick also said the Norwin program has a strong freshman class that should bode well for the Knights' future, but his hope is that this year's team can parlay its experience into a playoff push.
“Some teams are replacing key players, so we hope to have experience and work ethic on our side,” Hornick said.
“We have the expectation of winning, but also the expectation of improving as the year goes on. One week won't dictate how the whole season goes for us.”
The Panthers' string of 10 consecutive playoff appearances came to an end last season after dropping their final two matches to finish a game behind Latrobe in fourth place.
Franklin Regional also is dealing with a great deal of turnover entering this season, as only two lettermen return from 2012. But with so many new faces in the lineup, this year could be a chance for FR to have a fresh start toward a new playoff streak.
“Our biggest obstacle to overcome this season is the lack of varsity experience, however, our indoor conditioning workouts have been going well,” Franklin Regional coach Howard Fisher said. “Our season will be a work in progress, but the players are excited to face their section compeition, and I'm expecting them to be competitive once again.”
The team's two returning lettermen, senior Kevin Mechlenburg and junior Rohan Hattangady, will play singles for FR with another junior, Reno Casuccio.
Matt Harding, a senior and the team's co-captain with Mechlenburg, should be one of the leaders in the doubles pairings with a handful of juniors — Hassan Chughtai, Andrew Kolson, Alex Sebastian and Nathan Yu — filling out the lineup.
“My team has several returning players who have moved up from the junior varsity squad. They're excited to fill the singles and doubles varsity position left through graduation,” Fisher said.
“The three singles players have consistent serves, powerful ground strokes and move well on the court. My doubles players are currently working to find partners who will compliment their games.”
Fisher's son, Kevin, is taking over as the Franklin Regional JV coach, and while his main task is to develop the program for years to come, he may have some players that can contribute to the varsity squad sooner, rather than later.
“There are three underclassmen that may work their way into the varsity lineup eventually (this year), but it's too early to know,” Fisher said.
The Warriors are the defending champs in the section, and their bid to repeat will be led by junior Cullen Price, the section singles runner-up in 2011 and 2012.
With Price atop the lineup, Penn-Trafford has a player that, in most matches, will give the Warriors a safe 1-0 advantage from the top singles spot.
“It really is terrific to have a player like Cullen at the top of the lineup. It moves everyone else down one spot and puts them in a better position to win,” Penn-Trafford coach Linda Michaux said. “It's his third year starting at No. 1 singles, and while you never know what new freshman some team might have, he should be one of the top players.”
Behind Price are a trio of seniors — Dalton Yezovich, Jordan Pastoria and Alex Giugliano — all of whom are leading candidates for the remaining singles spots.
Sophomore Anthony Iovino, senior Aaron Augusty, senior Ralph Nicassio and sophomore Tim Seaman also will competed for P-T's singles and doubles positions, while seniors Christian Herman and Brian Niemic and juniors Evan Astley and Alex Shidel round out Michaux's potential varsity lineup.
“We've had an initial playoff, but with the weather, they still need to play best-of-three-set matches,” Michaux said. “It's hard in the beginning when you don't have time to set a lineup.”
Though P-T still has plenty of work to do to iron out its lineup, its strength with Price and No. 1 singles and its large group of seniors make the Warriors contenders to repeat as champs, or at least pull down one of the three playoff spots.
“Unfortunately, the weather hasn't been cooperating. We'd like to get more time in on the court,” Michaux said. “We know the competition is stiff with Kiski and Latrobe, and Franklin and Norwin are always tough, but we're going to work hard to keep our title.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.