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Gateway tennis to test mettle in new WPIAL section

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Gateway varsity girls tennis team made a move in the offseason, as the WPIAL reduced the number of Class AAA sections and increased the number of teams in each grouping.

Gone are long-standing matchups against Woodland Hills, Penn Hills, Shaler, Shady Side Academy and Fox Chapel.

The Gators say hello this season to new section foes in Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford, Norwin, Latrobe, Hempfield, Connellsville and Kiski Area.

Plum joins Gateway in Section 1.

“I think things got a little stale with the same opponents,” head coach Rochelle Seilhamer said.

“It's exciting to see different schools and players. Before, you kind of knew what was going to happen. With only playing each team once, the matches take on even more meaning.”

The top four teams from each AAA section qualify for the WPIAL team playoffs, and with only playing each section team once, eight matches will determine the playoff qualifiers.

Hempfield, Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford were the class of Section 1 last year, and all three qualified for the WPIAL playoffs.

“I'm not sure what Kiski Area has, but I know Franklin Regional always has a strong team,” Seilhamer said.

“Penn-Trafford, Latrobe and Hempfield always have strong players. It will be fun and competitive. It will be interesting to see how we play in the new section this year.”

Gateway has 21 players on the roster this year, up four or five from last year.

Seilhamer only lost two to graduation in starters Kristen Ku and Val Pascoe.

Several players from last year's team return, and Seilhamer will be counting on them to navigate through the first year in the new section.

Returning junior Aishwarya Raj and freshman Abby Herman have been competing for one of the top singles spots this week, Seilhamer said. Preseason practices began Monday morning.

Seilhamer said Herman will have an impact right away.

“When she really concentrates and focuses, she can do a lot,” Seilhamer said.

“She has every shot in the book. She's a lefty who is a big hitter with big ground strokes. She can have a big serve. She's only 13, so she can still add a lot to her game.”

Seilhamer said the two doubles teams and possibly a spot on the singles side of things will be formed from a group of returning players that include seniors Kaylee Steimer, Christie Doege, Rachel Morrow and Bridget Jacob and sophomores Steph Katofsky and Deeksha Sharma

“We have some up-and-coming girls on the team that will make a difference, and there even are a couple of talented players in seventh and eighth grade that we are looking forward to having on the team over the next couple of years,” Seilhamer said.

“Things continue to move in a positive direction.”

Seilhamer said she is not sure if 2013 Section 3-AAA singles champion Sammy Memije will compete for Gateway this season or opt to continue training for junior tennis opportunities.

�Memije blitzed the field in Section 3 singles last year, winning four matches en route to the title.

She won her first WPIAL match against P-T's Charlotte Vertes before having to default because of injury in quarterfinals.

Gateway kicks off its season with an exhibition match Saturday at South Park.

The Gators continue exhibition play next Wednesday at Baldwin and on Aug. 22 at home against West Mifflin before starting section action against Hempfield on Aug. 25 at the Gateway High School courts.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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