Freshmen and seniors rarely associate, but that's not the case on the North Allegheny tennis team.
Senior Sabrina Smyers and freshman Jennifer Larimore are the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class AAA doubles championships that begin Thursday at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel. The early rounds of the Class AA tournament will be held at North Allegheny. The finals and consolations for both classes are Tuesday at Shady Side Academy. The top three doubles teams in each class advance to the PIAA championships Nov. 4-5 in Hershey.
"I am honored to play on the varsity and with Sabrina," Larimore said. "Tennis is not like some sports where the level of your game reflects your age. Sabrina and I communicate well and are good friends, which is very important for doubles."
Smyers agreed, saying Larimore has a lot of experience playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments.
They travel together to national tournaments, but do not compete as a team. They are confident they can do well in the WPIAL tournament.
"It won't be easy," Smyers said, "because there are so many good players. Many of the girls who didn't advance in singles formed doubles teams."
"I don't look at her like a freshman," said Smyers, who withdrew in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL singles tournament because of a foot blister. "She is a really good player and has played tennis a long time. She is established, and I am just so excited to be playing with her. I didn't have to tell her anything about the importance of this tournament. She understands it, too."
Smyers can offer advice to Larimore. As a sophomore, Smyers and North Allegheny graduate Christie D'Achille won the WPIAL doubles title and finished second in the PIAA tournament. Last year, they were second in the WPIAL and third in the PIAA.
During the regular season, Smyers plays No. 1 singles and Larimore is No. 2. But both practiced a lot as doubles partners during training camp in August, which helped first-year coach Michelle Weniger determine her first and second doubles teams.
"They complement each other very well," Weniger said. "They seem comfortable on the court. Sabrina is one of our senior leaders and, even though Jen is a freshman, she has plenty of game experience."
Weniger said Smyers' strength is setting up Larimore at the net. The two also are good friends and train year-round with Frank Baritot, tennis professional and owner of Pennsylvania Tennis Academy at Windwood Racquet and Fitness Club in Bradford Woods. Baritot said, even though they are singles players, they can be tough to beat.
"Both are hard hitters, have decent serves and work so hard at their games," Baritot said. "It has been proven in the girls' game you can stay back (on the baseline) and still win."
Larimore considers Smyers is a good leader and is never overly critical.
"We have a game plan and have spent time working on the little things which can make a difference in a tournament," Larimore said. "You have to go in thinking you will do well and believe in what you can achieve. You also have to believe in your doubles partner, which I certainly do believe in Sabrina."