Franklin Regional hopes to move on without No. 1 singles player
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The 2014 Franklin Regional girls tennis team will look quite a bit different than the squads that made the WPIAL playoffs each of the past two seasons.
An injury to top singles player Natalia Perry, plus the graduation of 11 seniors, leaves the Panthers with a much different roster heading into the season.
“It really changes the dynamics of the team,” coach Howard Fisher said. “It remains to be seen what the team will be like since we've only been with them a week and our captains were just selected (Friday) morning. I'm sure they'll make a big impact on the attitude of the team and the whole dynamics of the team as we move forward, not only on the court but off the court.”
Perry, a junior, won the Section 1-AAA singles tournament and placed third at the WPIAL Class AAA singles tournament each of the past two seasons. However, she underwent shoulder surgery over the summer and will miss the season.
“We're hoping and encouraged that she will be back again next year,” Fisher said. “As you can imagine, losing a top player of that caliber really changes the dimensions of our team.”
In Perry's place, junior Jenna Bailey will play No. 1 singles for the Panthers. Bailey played No. 3 singles as a freshman before being limited to mostly doubles last season after suffering a preseason knee injury.
Bailey went 9-0 in doubles matches last season before playing No. 2 singles in the playoffs.
“It came as a shock,” Bailey said of Perry's injury. “I feel like it will be a challenge to take on, but I'm excited. I also think of it as more of a growing season for the team and for myself also. With her not here, it'll really make me face better players and it'll challenge me in many different ways. I'm also hoping it will make me better for next year if Natalia is able to return to play.”
Although Franklin Regional will see a change at No. 1 singles, juniors Kurlya Yan and Madeline Yu will return at No. 2 and 3 singles, respectively. Both players finished with a 10-4 record in singles play last season.
Because of the graduation of last season's seniors, who made up much of the doubles lineup, Fisher will look mostly to more inexperienced players to fill out the lineup.
Sophomore Alison Simpkins, who played doubles at the end of last season, could fluctuate between singles and doubles this season, Fisher said. Other players who could contribute in the starting lineup include juniors Danielle Leeman and Ava Metzgar and sophomores Erica Kolson and Rachel Seals.
Section play will also change for Franklin Regional this season, as the Panthers will compete in Section 1-AAA against familiar foes Connellsville, Hempfield, Kiski, Latrobe, Norwin and Penn-Trafford and newcomers Gateway and Plum. Unlike past seasons, Franklin Regional will play each team once instead of twice, and four teams will make the playoffs instead of three.
“I do think it will be a very competitive year, especially since last year and in past years, if we lost we had another chance to beat a team,” Bailey said. “(Now) we get one shot to really play, and you have to make sure you're doing your best.”
Franklin Regional opened its season with a match against Mars on Tuesday and another against Oakland Catholic on Wednesday. Both ended past the deadline for this week's edition. The Panthers will travel to Fox Chapel on Friday before opening section play Monday against Penn-Trafford.
“I feel if we can reach one of those four spots in the WPIAL playoffs, that will make a very successful season for us,” Fisher said. “My hope is that we can grow enough that when we come out again next year with my senior group, that we can really dominate. I look at this year as being more of a year of growth and maturity, rather than looking at it as a dominant force.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.
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