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Tennis

Experienced Franklin Regional girls tennis team lineup returns

Michael Love
| Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

The 2014 Franklin Regional varsity girls tennis team finish tied for second with Norwin in the Section 1-AAA standings.

Both ended with 6-2 records, two behind section champion Hempfield (8-0).

But with six of seven starters back, others challenging for spots in the lineup and the return of a player who made waves as a sophomore two years ago, the Panthers are optimistic they have what it takes to win a section title and challenge at the WPIAL tournament.

“I was impressed with how well the girls served and how well they were prepared for the start of the season,” head coach Howard Fisher said following Monday's first practice.

“I could tell that they played in the offseason. Some played more than others, but they came in with a lot of enthusiasm. They talked about doing better than last year. We want to defeat the two teams that beat us last year.”

Franklin Regional's only two section losses last year were to Hempfield and Norwin.

Natalia Perry returns to the lineup this fall after missing her entire junior season because of injury.

Perry won the Section 1-AAA singles title and placed third at WPIALs as a sophomore in 2013. She also teamed with fellow senior Jenna Bailey to win the section doubles title and take third at WPIALs.

“Natalia missed that team aspect and the girls missed her,” Fisher said.

Only the top two from the WPIAL singles and doubles tournaments advanced to states in 2013. The allotment of WPIAL finishers to states from singles and doubles increased to three last year.

Perry showed she is on the right track after winning the girls singles title at the recent Fox Chapel Junior Open Tournament.

“Natalia is very interested in coming back and helping the team toward another section title,” Fisher said. “She's also looking forward to section and WPIAL singles and doubles and another shot at states.”

Bailey played No. 1 singles as a junior last year and finished as runner-up at sections. She and junior Alison Simpkins took third at section doubles.

Both finishes were good enough to earn a trip to WPIALs.

Simpkins is back after playing at No. 2 singles, and she is joined by returning starters in seniors Maddie Yu (No. 3 singles), Ava Metzger (No. 1 doubles) and Kurlya Yan (No. 1 doubles) and junior Rachael Seals (No. 2 doubles).

Bailey will be a fourth-year letter winner, while Yan and Yu both will be third-year lettermen. Metzgar, Seals and Simpkins hope to earn their second letters this fall.

Senior Danielle Leeman and juniors Allison Zhang and Erica Kolson are in the mix to challenge for a spot in the varsity lineup, Fisher said.

Fisher said there are others new to the team or freshman that might also have a shot.

“Some really impressed in the first practice,” he said.

Challenge matches, Fisher said, were to start Tuesday in order to start finalizing the lineup.

“It should be a pretty interesting season,” he said. “We should have a lot of good matches in section. Some familiar faces will be there battling for the section title. We hope we can be at the top.”

Armstrong, the combination of Kittanning and Ford City, joins Section 1 this season and brings the total number of teams in the section to 10.

The top four teams from the section will advance to the WPIAL team tournament.

Franklin Regional met Montour in the first round last year and suffered a 3-1-1 loss to end its season at 7-8 overall.

Franklin Regional opens with a scrimmage Monday against Indiana, nonsection matches at Oakland Catholic and Mars next Wednesday and Aug. 27, respectively, and a home match with Fox Chapel on Aug. 28.

The section opener against Penn-Trafford is at home Aug. 31.

Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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