Southmoreland girls tennis reflects on successful season

Senior Marissa Luden awaits a return shot in the opening round of the playoffs against Highlands
Senior Marissa Luden awaits a return shot in the opening round of the playoffs against Highlands
Photo by Paul Paterra | For The Independent-Observer
| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Southmoreland's girls tennis team took a journey this season no other girls tennis team at the school had taken for a long time.

The Scotties and coach Jim Kessler advanced to the postseason on the strength of a 7-5 record in Section 1-AA, which was good enough for a third-place tie with Derry.

The playoff run ended with a 5-0 loss to perennial power Sewickley Academy, but not before a postseason win over Highlands by a 4-1 score.

“I'm really excited about this,” said senior Ashley Belzer on the eve of the contest with Highlands. “To make it my senior year, it's more than I can ever ask for to make it this far.”

Belzer handled one of the singles spots for the Scotties for the most part this season, along with senior Marissa Luden and junior Justina Jacquillard. She noted there were some key factors that pushed the squad to the success it had.

“Working as a team, practicing hard and having confidence in ourselves,” she said. “I don't think anybody really expected (the success), but we wanted it.”

Kessler is in his fourth year at the helm of the girls tennis team and has witnessed marked improvement since his first year.

“The whole team graduated, so we really started from scratch,” Kessler recalled of his first season. “I knew it would take a few years, but I thought by now we should be in the playoffs.”

Jacquillard echoed many of the sentiments shared by Belzer when describing the team and what it was able to accomplish in 2013.

“We spent a lot of time practicing,” Jacquillard said. “We were all just really determined to get to the playoffs this year.”

Senior Jae Pawlikowsky said some of that determination could be found in the summer when many of the girls on the team worked on their craft.

“Over the summer, there would be a whole bunch of people down at Loucks (Park),” she said. “We'll all play together. That really helps. It helps with bonding.”

Kessler said tennis typically is not the most popular sport among Southmoreland athletes, so he is a little extra tickled to see the success this team garnered.

“I'm proud of them because all they've heard the last three years at Southmoreland is how good that boys team was,” Kessler said. “They wanted to get into the playoffs. Now they're in the playoffs. Now they've got that off the back...I expect next year with us making the playoffs we'll have more kids.”

As with any team, there are many personalities on this one.

“We all have a lot of different personalities,” Jacquillard said. “We all have a good time together. We laugh a lot. (We're) kind of a dysfunctional family.”

The junior admitted that the positive happenings can only be helpful for 2014 as she has here eyes on the number one singles spot.

“If I practice over the summer I can definitely try and get the first singles position,” Jacquillard said.

Pawlikowsky was a doubles player throughout the season and was thrilled to be a part of the team that ended a playoff drought.

“I barely even knew about the tennis team,” she said. “The boys go to sections almost all the time. You never hear anything about the girls, so I think it was really important. Especially for the seniors, because we just wanted to go out with something.”

Other key members of the team included: freshman Kaitlyn Walch, juniors Katherine Spottedbear and Anna Sowinski and sophomores Amanda Ostrowski and Taylor Robbins.

Kessler noticed very early this team could be on the verge of something special.

“We're three practices in and I announced we're going to do round robins (to earn their positions),” Kessler said. “That was three hours each day and every single one of them wanted those spots. There's 18 girls and only seven spots. That's when I knew we're going to have a good team.”

Pawlikowsky said she first realized this team could be on the verge of something special came in a match against Derry.

“Kate (Walch) and I went into two tiebreakers and we beat them and that helped,” Pawlikowsky said. “Without that, (we wouldn't have gotten into the playoffs). We're all just really thankful we made it. We deserved, it because we worked hard.”

That hard work did, indeed, pay off.

“It's been a really good year,” Kessler said. “I'm really proud of them.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or

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