By Dan Gilles
The West Shore Conference girls tennis championship has run through Avon the last three years. The Eagles have had some quality individuals over that span that has helped them claim the tournament championship and win in match play.
While the Eagles have a lot returning from last season’s team, which won four of the five WSC individual tournament championships, both Bay and Rocky River should pose legitimate threats to wrest that title away.
Under Caroline Hughes, Avon didn’t have any real standout tennis players, but were well-rounded from top to bottom last season. It only lost two players to graduation from that team, so most of the lineup returns.
Junior Madisyn Rini and senior Annie DeLuca represented Avon in the Division I district tournament at Oberlin College last season, when they were a doubles team and advanced out of the sectionals. DeLuca spent the regular season at first doubles partnered with Abby Schwartz, who has graduated.
This season, Rini returns to first singles, while DeLuca will play third singles. Senior captain Halle Mentler will play second singles for the second-straight year and will try to defend her WSC championship.
Sophomore Maddie Nakon and senior Riley Monroe will team up at first singles after winning the WSC second doubles championship last season. Seniors Laura Schmitz and Lindsey Roberts have been playing at second doubles for Avon during the early part of the season.
“This should be a strong year for the Avon girls tennis team, having lost only two this year, and with adding Lindsey, Laura and (sophomore) Kara (Hejnal) to the team, it just filled the gaps beautifully,” Hughes said. “This year we hope to repeat all we did last year and become LCAAA and WSC champions.
“We would like to have a better showing at sectionals this year and maybe get further than last year. We have depth in team and a group that supports each other, which helps.”
Bay boasts arguably the best tennis player in the WSC in senior defending first singles champion Katy Quillin. Quillin was a state qualifier as a sophomore and was one match away from making it for the second-straight year, but was defeated by Rocky River’s Isa Quinones.
“They have a huge head-to-head rivalry that’s now in its fourth season,” Bay coach Dave Peters said. “I think Katy is up 5-1, but Isa beat her in districts last year to keep her out of state and put Isa in. It should be great tennis.”
Quillin, Quinones and Rini should battle for the first singles crown among themselves. But Bay returns four other letter winners in seniors Lauren Kapes, Haley Hansen and Rachel Poretsky, and junior Paige Aleksandrovic.
Junior Maddie Messina, freshman Campbell Priemer and sophomore Caroline Eifert will fill out the roster for Bay.
Both Bay and Rocky River will move up to Division I this year, which will also be a challenge.
“Katy Quillin should be the top player in the conference,” Peters said. “I do have some depth and experience. But, we’re still looking for the right combinations at doubles
“We play a very aggressive non-conference schedule and we will take our lumps, but the goal, as always is to challenge for the WSC crown. I believe we’ll battle with River for that honor. We are looking to get Katy Quillin back to state, although it will be new territory as we have moved up to D-I.”
Quinones, a defending state qualifier, will be back to lead Rocky River this season. In fact, the Pirates have three returning state qualifiers, with sophomore Lucy Grierson and senior Alex Riegelsberger also making the trip to Columbus last season.
All three girls were first-team All-WSC selections last season and are returning letter winners. Senior Adrienne Copa is also a returning letter winner.
“We’re returning three state qualifiers from a second-place conference team,” Rocky River coach Ben Purdy said. “We have great depth and leadership on this team, along with great numbers – 35 girls are on the team. We moved up to D-I this season, which will be a challenge.”
Seniors Sydney Bowen and Kate Blossey, along with freshmen Anna Vergon and Zoe Douglas, are among the newcomers to Rocky River that could make an immediate impact on the varsity this season.
Rocky River went 14-6 last season, 6-1 in the WSC, with its only loss coming to 7-0 (15-2 overall) Avon. Bay finished third in the WSC, going 5-2.
North Ridgeville will have a new head coach in Brandon May, who has been at the helm of the boys program the last five seasons. He’ll try to lend some stability to a girls program that has seen its share of struggles the past few seasons.
May will have nine letterwinners returning for his first year as coach – sophomores Lauren Mareflake, Kaitlyn Heck, Monique Mihalski and Michaela Ferrara, and juniors Tabby McCloskey, Carol Yun, Autumn Bronkar, Megan O’Neal and Tayler Wishner.
“The fact we have nine letterwinners and all are underclassmen is very important because they kind of know what to expect,” May said. “They have an idea of how the season’s going to go and are a little more prepared and can help the upcoming freshmen (Mia Slone and Rachel Stoll).”
Lakewood did not submit information about its tennis team for this preview. Midview will have a new coach and five letterwinners, while Elyria Catholic returns four letterwinners. Vermilion has technically left the WSC this season.
Magnificat should be one of the best teams in Northeast Ohio once again, bringing back six letter winners from a team that went 17-5 overall and finished third in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association State Team Tournament.
The Blue Streaks will be led by two-time state qualifier Emily Witt, a senior who was one match away from finishing in the top four finishers at the state tournament. Witt went 18-15 last year in a very tough schedule, but emerged as one of the best tennis players in the state.
Junior Lauren O’Malley, a Westlake resident, returns after qualifying for districts last season and will hold down second singles. She went 22-8 last season.
Other letterwinners include sophomore Tess Moran (third singles), senior Miranda Manimbo (singles/doubles), senior Miranda Faranacci (doubles) and senior Hayley Lawless (singles/doubles).
“Our biggest strength is returning all three of our singles players, but our biggest weakness is having to field all new doubles teams,” Blue Streaks coach Chris Johnson said. “As always, we expect to be in contention for a state team title.
“We have a loaded schedule that has us traveling all over Ohio to prepare us for October. Our three singles players are very strong and have worked hard to improve in the offseason. Our doubles teams will be new, but they have potential to be better than last year’s teams.”
Magnificat finished 8-0 and was the champions of Northeast Ohio Girls League Flight A.
Fairview went 11-8 last season, finishing last in Northeast Ohio Girls League Flight E. But the Warriors do have five letter winners returning from that team, including senior co-captains Annie Fratzke and Jessica Popa.
The two captains were on opposite doubles teams last year but could very well be partnered up this season at first doubles. Or, coach Eric Korey may have the duo play the first two singles positions, in no particular order as of yet.
Seniors Alondra Aguirre, Hannah Filkill and Martha Vandra round out the letterwinners for Fairview. Vandra played third singles last season and is in contention to move up to second singles this season, while Aguirre and Filkill were doubles partners last season.
Seniors Kaitlin Ford and Sherry Gabra and junior Hanna Palmer-Tesema all played JV last season but will step up and play varsity this season.
“This is a more versatile team than last year,” Korey said. “Although we do not have any dominant players, all of our players are competitive, hard working and can play any spot in the lineup.We do not have a true horse at the top of the lineup, but will rely on great team work to achieve victory
“This is as dedicated and hard working a team as I have ever had. These athletes love tennis and play great together as a team. Our team is a true family and I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Lake Ridge Academy had a team full of letterwinners last season following a 7-6 season in 2011, but it didn’t translate into continued success, as the Royals fell to 3-16.
The Royals only have two returning letterwinners in seniors Sara Al-Haddad (first singles) and Taylor Soto (singles). Other than freshman Leah Choban (singles), head coach Sean Hicks did not single out any other girls to watch on this year’s team.
“Our strength I couple with our weakness, as we are young, and we have many incoming freshmen that will be playing varsity for the first time,” Hicks said. “They have an opportunity to learn together what it will take to be a high school tennis player.
“But, we are extremely young. Last season, we graduated six of our starting seven. This year, we will be growing and learning together.”