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Youth is served for Franklin Regional tennis team

Franklin Regional freshman Rochan Ramesh competes during the Section 1-AAA doubles tournament at Franklin Regional High School on Monday, April 22, 2013.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

If a player best represents the rapid rise of the Franklin Regional tennis team this season, it's Rochan Ramesh.

Ramesh, a freshman, began the season as the top singles player on the Panthers' junior varsity team. As the year progressed, coach Howard Fisher moved Ramesh first to a doubles slot on the varsity team, then to the No. 2 singles slot.

“I saw potential (before the season), but he wasn't a polished player at that time,” Fisher said. “I think as he developed with the varsity, all the practices, he was able to really step it up. He's probably the most improved player on our team.”

On the Panthers, that's saying a lot.

Franklin Regional, which began the year with just two returning letterwinners from a team that failed to make the playoffs in 2012, clinched a postseason appearance this season by virtue of its third-place finish in Section 1-AAA. The Panthers expected to begin the playoffs Friday with a road match against a to-be-determined opponent. Seedings were announced Wednesday.

“It's very satisfying to work with a group of guys that did not have varsity experience,” Fisher said. “To be able to have the other five players step it up was very satisfying. They worked very hard in offseason conditioning, and as the season came up they continued with their conditioning. I think it's paying off now in the latter parts of this season.”

Franklin Regional (10-4) dropped three of its first seven section matches of the season, but the Panthers picked it up after that. Franklin Regional knocked off Kiski and Latrobe in the second half of the section schedule to officially qualify for the playoffs.

“It's really exciting because it's my first time making it to playoffs in high school,” said junior Rohan Hattangady, the Panthers' No. 1 singles player. “(I'm) pretty nervous. But hopefully all the practice pays off, all these tough matches.”

Fisher said the Panthers' run really picked up when he swapped Kevin Mechlenberg — one of the team's two returning lettermen — with Ramesh during the first half of the season. Mechlenberg has teamed with Nathan Yu as Franklin Regional's top doubles team, while Ramesh flourished as the team's No. 2 singles player.

“That really seemed to give us new momentum, and the fact that they both really got very easily adjusted into their new positions helped a lot,” Fisher said. “It's not an easy thing to move from one strategy to another.”

Ramesh defeated Kiski's Tyler Paunovich in a 4-1 Franklin Regional victory April 10. It was Paunovich's first loss of the season in a section match.

“It was fun,” Ramesh said. “That was probably the best match I've played all season because it was long and very competitive.”

Junior Reno Casuccio is the Panthers' No. 3 singles player, while Hassan Chugtai and Alex Sebastian are the No. 2 doubles team.

After the playoff run ends, Franklin Regional will turn its sights to winning the section next season. Penn-Trafford ended Franklin Regional's run of nine consecutive section titles in 2011, and the Warriors have now won three straight.

The Panthers nearly defeated Penn-Trafford (13-0) in a match last Thursday, but the Warriors ultimately prevailed, 3-2.

“Being a senior (and) seeing this potential, it makes me feel good,” senior captain Matt Harding said. “I'm leaving this team, but it's got a future. It's not just going to die.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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