The tennis scene in Ashtabula County has long been dominated by the Geneva Eagles.
Entering the 2012 season, it doesn’t look like much will change.
The Eagles return all but one letterwinner to a team that won 20 matches in 2011.
Leading the charge to unseat the queens of the hill will be Jefferson and Lakeside.
Jefferson will finally get to see what transfer Megan Cowling is capable of after sitting out a year. Cowling had lettered as a freshman and sophomore for Geneva before transferring to Jefferson last fall. She takes over the No. 1 spot on the team from Jackie Piscsalko, who claimed co-Star Beacon Player of the Year honors before graduating.
Lakeside lost very little from a team that finished last fall at 12-6, though coach Bob Walters will have to replace Megan Reichert, who joined Piscsalko as co-Star Beacon Player of the Year.
The Spartans finished 3-13 a season ago, but they lost just one letterwinner and will trot six seniors onto the court each afternoon.
Brooke Sanford, Alyssa Andes, Carissa Nardo, Brinda Patel, Rebecca Tisdale and Sarah Herrmann have certainly paid their dues and are poised for a turn in fortunes.
“We have a very heavy senior class and they will have to step up big time for us to be successful,” coach Doug Hedrick said. “They are a group that has been together for a long time and deserve to have a big senior year.”
Depth will be a problem for the Spartans as they only have eight players.
Sophomore Carly Kay and freshman Shelby McCartney will press for playing time, but if any injuries occur, Conneaut could be in a bit of trouble.
The Warriors are looking to replace three letterwinners, but return four seniors and a junior who saw extensive playing time in 2011.
Seniors Meg Ferl, Ronnie Brady, Sara Turner and Sara Wilpula and junior Cassandra Dickey will provide the experience and leadership for Beth Williams, who returns as head coach.
Senior Tracey Lute and juniors Rachel Metcalf and Antoinette Jackson are inexperienced but will be pushed to help the younger Warriors, of which there are plenty, grow.
Williams will have to develop four sophomores and six freshmen quickly, for they will be pressed into action very soon.
“This year, we will be focused on building passion for the sport and furthering the development of fundamentals,” Williams said. “We will be concentrating on serving and court positioning. We will be conditioning to be faster and grow stronger.”
Williams understands her troops will have to develop a good rapport with each other for the future and is trying to help those relationships to grow.
“The girls will be encouraged to make and work towards personal goals, which we create a stronger team. I hope we have a good time together this season and lots of fun!”
Despite a number of upperclassmen in front of them, sophomores Sam Braden, Allison Massaro, Miranda Stover and Tyler Williams as well as freshmen Bronte’ Adams, Tiffany Lawrence, Erica Applebee, Kayla Norman, Lexi Piekarski and Sara Ball will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves on the court.
Eagles coach Scott Torok understands the potential his team has entering the season. He also knows he has to keep the Eagles healthy and fresh in order to get the most from them.
“(We have to) stay healthy,” Torok said. “This is potentially, one of the best teams I have had here at Geneva (in 15 years). We return 10 letterwinners from a 20-1 team that also was unbeaten in league play last year. We cannot be overconfident and have to play one match at a time. The sky is the limit for this group.”
Seniors Alex Clarke, Kristen Farrell, Courtney Leininger, Brooke Mihalick, Shaela Phillips and Lindsey Varckette all return for another go. Juniors Alyx Lynham, Martina Drugovich and Beth Steele also return.
Lynham, who won both the 18 singles and 18 mixed-doubles titles at the Ashtabula County Tennis
Championships over the summer has a chance to be the dominant player in the county in 2012.
Torok also has sophomores Hailey Dodge, Kayla Huff and Veronica Ruggeri and freshmen Deidra Yan, Katie Salyan and Sydney VanHoy waiting in the wings for a chance to make an impact.
With nearly everyone back, the Eagles will be the frontrunner to win the Premier Athletic Conference.
“We are the reigning PAC champs and return 10 lettermen,” Torok said. “Unless a school has a tremendous freshmen group or some talented transfers, I would think we are the favorites.”
Torok also understands they still have to play the matches and anything can happen.
“Everyone is 0-0 right now,” he said. “Lakeside and Chardon should be our closest competitors.”
The Falcons will have to replace more lost letterwinners than any other team in the area, having lost seven players to graduation.
Cowling will help that situation as she has the potential to challenge Lynham. Fellow seniors Sarah Jeppeson and Kayleen Altman and junior Sarah Brook all lettered a season ago and should continue to grow as players.
Coach Lou Murphy might have to replace the equivalent of an entire starting lineup, but he has plenty of players to choose from with 13 more players from which to choose.
Senior Nicki Shadow and juniors Arianna Focht, Katlyn VanDevender and Ashley Katona are the most experienced of the group and will have to help guide a combination of nine sophomores and freshmen.
Murphy is trying to teach his team that playing loose is important.
“(The keys to success are) learning to relax as you play the game and believing in your decisions,” Murphy said.
The Falcons finished second in their first season in the All-American Conference and Murphy wants them to push to better that this time around.
“We want to be in the hunt to compete for the league,” he said.
Coach Bob Walters lost just two letterwinners from a team that was 12-6 and while still extremely young a year ago.
Though a year older, the Dragons will once again be youthful. They do not have a returning senior letterwinner.
Juniors Katie Allan, Kayla Johnston and Courtney Smith and sophomores Ashley Gran and Emily Simpson have developed their game and have a chance to be a very good group, despite their youth.
“The girls have invested a lot of time, money and effort in taking lessons, competing and practicing,” Walters said. “Because of their investment, I’m sure they will receive money, personal rewards, and that, in turn, will give us the chance to share in many team successes.”
Rounding out the roster will be seniors Collette Goodson and Nicole Rock, juniors Leah Brady and Sarah George, sophomores Josie Foster, Gabby Novak, Malynda Russell, Megan Shiff and Sophia Tannish and freshman Sierra Hall.
Walters knows what lies ahead in the PAC with Geneva in front of the Dragons. However, he also knows his team can be at or near the top of the league standings.
“I believe Geneva will be the toughest because they won it last year with all underclassmen,” Walters said. “Both Lakeside and Chardon are losing two players from last year’s teams — so hopefully, we will be in the hunt. Then it will probably be South, Riverside and/or Madison.”
Bob Walker’s Pirates were 14-3 a year ago and lost just two seniors to graduation, leaving seven returning letterwinners on the roster.
Four of those Pirates – Ann Johnson, Lindsey Reigert, Brittany Hogan and Nicole Best – are seniors. Junior Alysia Klinger and sophomores Sara Paquet and Gabby Spahr also return to the lineup.
In order to improve on last year, the Pirates have to simply do one thing.
“Play 100 percent throughout each match,” Walker said.
Pushing for playing time will be senior Reanna Norton, juniors Chelsea Collins and Izzy Greener, sophomores Hannah Dew and Suen Sunmony and freshmen Tess Farinacci, Hannah Robinson, Alexis Haskins and Courtney Collins.
The Chagrin Valley Conference championship will run through one team. “Aurora is the team for us to beat.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at email@example.com.
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