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Burrell happy to open WPIAL tennis playoffs at home

| Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Jaila Manga, left, returns a shot as her partner Jessica Linza watches as they play Valley at the Section 4-AA doubles tennis playoff at the Lakevue Athletic Club in Valencia on Thursday, September 27, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Jaila Manga returns a shot during practice at Burrell High School on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

Jeri Tutolo, the fourth-year Burrell girls tennis coach, views the Lady Bucs' pairing for the 2013 postseason as a welcome reprieve from the program's usual playoff routine.

Rather than travel into Pittsburgh or to the far side of the WPIAL region to play some vaguely familiar opponent, Burrell will begin the final segment of its season at home — against a school from just down the Allegheny River.

Maybe the setting change will help Burrell, a playoff qualifier for the 11th straight year, snap a more dubious streak — the team last won a playoff match in 2006.

The Lady Bucs, who will host Springdale at 3 p.m. Tuesday, are the beneficiaries of a preliminary-round pairing that affords them their first home match in six years. They placed third in Section 4-AA with a 6-4 record, while Springdale tied Highlands for third in Section 3 with a 7-5 mark.

“I'm thrilled,” Tutolo said. “We get to play a nearby school. I think the girls are thrilled, and I think Springdale also is excited that they don't have to travel very far.”

Said second-year Springdale coach Bob Ochsenshirt: “We definitely like the idea that we're staying in the area.”

A Burrell win would boost the morale of a program that has maintained its playoff-qualifying streak by polishing fairly raw players in a short amount of time. Senior Jaila Manga, the team's No. 1 singles player and a standout in basketball and softball, started playing tennis two years ago. Seniors Lexi Sharick and Sydney Santucci, the No. 2 doubles pair, are first-year starters who picked up the sport a year ago after leaving volleyball.

“A lot of the girls, we even have to show them how to hold the racquet at first,” Tutolo said. “But they are athletes, and that helps. Athletes just pick things up.”

Ochsenshirt understands the challenges involved with shaping new players. A year ago, he took over a program that started in 2007 and did not have home courts until 2012. But progress continues for the Dynamos, particularly for seniors Margo Corsetti and Becca Kern, who qualified for the WPIAL singles tournament and then paired up to successfully defend their section doubles title this fall.

A playoff win is a logical next step in the growth process.

“They're really hoping for it, but they're not expecting it,” said Ochsenshirt, whose team lost, 4-1, to Mt. Pleasant in the preliminary round last year. “They know they have to work for it.”

Seven of the 10 Dynamos are seniors, including Corsetti, Kern and Emelia Conte (No. 3 singles) and Emily Garrigan and Shelby Paul (No. 1 doubles).

The winner will play No. 2 seed Greensburg Central Catholic in the first round on Thursday.

Highlands, in the playoffs for the first time since 2005, will play at Southmoreland on Tuesday with the winner advancing to meet No. 1 Sewickley Academy in the first round.

Valley (10-2, 8-2), which placed second in Section 4-AA, opens the postseason with a match at Vincentian on Thursday. The No. 9 seed Vikings have made the playoffs six straight years and reached the quarterfinals three times in that span. Coach Rachael Link believes her girls, from standout singles sisters Emily and Catherine Armstrong down, are good enough to at least get through the first round.

“We got better with every match, and that's epically important as you enter the WPIAL playoffs,” said Link, who noted the particularly marked improvement of her doubles players, seniors Megan Hill and Julia Westerman as well as juniors Anna Alfera, Amanda Carson and Emily Meanor. “We have been solid on all five courts.”

Fox Chapel, a perennial playoff qualifier in Class AAA, will start its postseason Wednesday with a home match against Moon. The No. 6 seed Foxes (14-3, 12-2), who finished second behind No. 2 Shady Side Academy in Section 3-AAA, hope a lineup headlined by sophomore singles players Laurel Shymansky and Lacey Cohen can get past the quarterfinals, the round in which Fox Chapel exited the last three years. Shymansky and Cohen recently paired up to win the WPIAL doubles title.

“From the beginning of the season, we've talked about how we always seem to make the quarterfinals and that's it,” Foxes coach Alex Slezak said. “We want to get to that tipping point that pushes us over the edge.”

Fox Chapel was the most recent Alle-Kiski Valley school to advance past the quarterfinals, as it won the team championship in 2004.

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