The Franklin Regional varsity girls tennis team was to begin defense of its Section 1-AAA team championship Wednesday with a match against Kiski Area.
The Panthers brought home the title last year with an undefeated mark in nine section matches.
Six starters from that team, including section singles champion, WPIAL third-place finisher and state qualifier Natalia Perry, moved on because of graduation.
But with four players returning with varsity starting experience and others moving into the varsity lineup, head coach Howard Fisher said this year’s squad can make some noise in the section.
“We do expect to hold our own this season, but inexperience may make it difficult to maintain,” Fisher said. “Time will tell, but it’s certainly an advantage to have a talented pool of junior varsity players that can be promoted to varsity positions from year to year.”
Senior returning starter Alison Simpkins gets her chance to lead the team at No. 1 singles after previously playing in the lineup at both No. 2 and No. 3 singles.
Also back as lettermen are seniors Erica Kolson, Rachael Seals and Allison Zhang who all played second doubles last year.
Fisher said the first week of practices were productive for several other players, including those on last year’s JV team, to step up and show what they can do.
He said seniors Kerrianne Adamek, Nitya Anantharaman and Sherilyn Selvakumar; juniors Anisha Mandava, Nikki Bonacci, Anjali Hattangady and Carly Litz; and sophomore Caitlyn VanAlen have been considered to play important varsity roles.
Three matches this week, including a nonsection match Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at Hampton, should help determine a starting roster which could evolve somewhat throughout the season, Fisher said.
Fisher projected a final tally of 12 on the varsity squad and 14 others on the JV team.
A full junior varsity match schedule will be played, and Franklin Regional again will host its JV doubles tournament Oct. 4.
“The girls are really excited to begin playing matches after a hard week of physical conditioning, tennis instruction, drill work and competing in their challenge matches,” Fisher said.
“Many of the girls experienced the camaraderie of last year’s championship season and realize the hard work that will be necessary to play at their best and be competitive against the talented teams from Penn-Trafford, Norwin, Hempfield and Latrobe. We’re also excited to invite Greensburg-Salem back into Section 1.”
Hempfield (8-1), Latrobe (7-2) and Penn-Trafford (6-3) joined Franklin Regional as the WPIAL AAA team tournament qualifiers from Section 1 last year.
The top four teams from each AAA section again will qualify for the WPIAL tournament.
The top four singles players and top four doubles teams from the section tournaments also will play at their respective WPIAL championships.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at [email protected].