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Derry girls tennis overcomes early-season adversity to make playoff run

| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A season that began in turmoil ended with Derry's girls tennis team making its sixth trip to the WPIAL Class AA playoffs in the past eight years.

The prospect of a difficult 2013 season for the Trojans began with the departure of five of the seven players from their starting lineup due to graduation.

Also, the Trojans didn't have any courts to practice on during the offseason and for the first half of the 2013 season because the tennis courts were under construction. Derry had to travel to neighboring courts in order to get practice time.

In the end, the Trojans, who have won 88 matches in the past eight seasons, were able to fight all the adversity and clawed to a 7-7 overall record and a 7-5 record in Section 1-AA play. Their season ended with a 4-1 loss to Fort Cherry in the preliminary round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.

“I was planning to have a winning record and see where we were in our section. Five of seven players were gone. I never experienced that before in any of my previous years. I haven't seen that happen in any sport off the top of my head,” coach Tom Tatone said.

“We just started the season with very littler playing time. A lot of credit goes to the kids and getting themselves match ready. Getting to the playoffs is a big feather in their caps for them.”

The only varsity players to return were the members of the second doubles team — seniors Jill Orazio and Hunter Hudson. Instead of playing doubles, Orazio and Hudson played No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively.

Even though they were separated for team play, Orazio and Hudson reunited for tournament play. The duo finished third with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Brownsville's Sari Yuhas and Angie Braznok at the Section 1-AA doubles tournament, which sent them to the WPIAL Class AA doubles tournament.

“They were a great example of how far you can go with some dedication early and waiting for getting your opportunity. Becoming the No. 1 and 2 singes players is a big jump,” Tatone said.

“I was hoping to see their dedication levels to stay through their senior years. They weren't the kids who started playing at clubs at a young age. I guess you would say they were home-grown kids at Derry.”

The Trojans, who won around 100 games from 1974-2005, will look forward to the prospect of sophomore Maria Palombo, who played third singles this season. The doubles lineup featured sophomore Natalie Samese paired up with senior Paige Lupyen, while junior Abby Cox split time with junior Heather Ramsey and senior Emma Crocker.

“Maria has had a great year as a sophomore at third singles. She's ahead of a lot of players right now. She didn't get discouraged when she felt some pressure on the court,” Tatone said. “The next two seasons she will rely on the experience she gained from this past season. If she works hard this offseason, she is going to stand out next year.”

With investment into the Derry girls tennis program, Tatone still believes the program is a couple years away from recovering from the graduation departures of last year.

“It may take two years. The number of kids dropped by six from the year before. We only had 15 kids come out this year. We didn't have much depth. I want to see some new younger girls come out and older ones that didn't want to come out this year to get it up to 20.”

“There is no reason why they shouldn't because we have four new courts. There will be some rallying to get more people. We are going to be a team with a lot of opportunity for girls to get into the lineup.”

Andrew John is a freelance writer.

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