Job vacancies create interesting start for girls tennis season
Section 4-AA girls tennis got off to a rocky start this season with schools volleying coaching positions, struggling to find players or fielding teams with too many players.
Lisa Morell resigned last week as Valley's head coach. Morell, who took a teaching position at South Vo-Tech in Pittsburgh, was named the 2002 Valley News Dispatch Girls Tennis Coach of the Year after leading her team to a 13-1 record.
Rachel Link, daughter of athletic director Frank Link, took over for Morell. She joined the team last weekend and has already led them two wins in two days against West Shamokin and Kittanning.
Link, 25, was a four-year starter as Valley's No. 1 player. She graduated in 1996 and went on to play four years at Clarion University.
Valley is 3-0 and hopes to challenge Burrell for the section title.
On Friday, the Lady Vikings play at Burrell.
Teams in Section 4-AA include Valley, Burrell, Ford City, Highlands, Kittanning, West Shamokin, St. Joseph and Elderton.
The section was almost one team short when St. Joseph in Harrison struggled to get enough players to field a team.
"It looked like we weren't going to be able to field a team," athletic director and new girls tennis coach Mike Stitt said. "We only had seven players, but we were able to pick up a couple freshmen the first day of school."
Boys tennis coach Marty Bosin was originally slated to coach the girls, but he resigned, thinking there weren't going to be a girls program.
Stitt, who has been playing tennis for many years, picked up the position after school started.
Due to the uncertainty of the team, St. Joseph hasn't had much practice time. Many are first-time players.
"These kids are just thrown into the situation," Stitt said. "We are just happy if they make contact."
It is a big difference from last season when St. Joseph made it to the WPIAL Class AA tournament, but was eliminated in the first round. The team graduated seven seniors.
Despite their lack of experience, the girls have a great attitude.
"The girls are having fun," Stitt said. "They're asking questions and having a great time."
Unlike St. Joseph, Burrell and Highlands had plenty of interest in their teams.
Burrell coach Julie Ondako usually cuts the team down to 12 players.
This season, she opted to keep 17 players including nine freshmen.
"We have a lot of talent here," Ondako said. "I hope they stay interested in all four years."
The Lady Bucs have eight players returning from last season.
Highlands coach Shelley Brown also has 17 players on her team. She has only two points players returning, and six freshmen who have never played tennis before.
"We are a very inexperienced team," Brown said. "I think it could turn out to be a competitive year because most of the teams are inexperienced."
In Section 3-AAA, Fox Chapel continues to dominate the section.
The Lady Foxes were 14-0 last season, but lost in the first round of the Class AAA tournament.
Coach Emma Dieffenbach sees no reason the Lady Foxes won't go even farther this season.
VND Fab Five Rankings1. Fox Chapel (4-1).
2. Valley (3-0).
3. Burrell (3-0).
4. Knoch (3-2).
5. Highlands (3-2).