Girls' tennis preview: Who will emerge as county singles champ in '15?
There are more prestigious titles to be won, for sure.
But for Lebanon County scholastic tennis players, there's nothing quite like the feeling that comes with winning a county singles title.
Sure, it might not carry a great deal of weight outside the county line, but who cares? Once you win a county championship it's yours forever. No one is taking it away.
With that in mind, let's turn our attention to girls' tennis season in Lebanon County, which looks like it will feature one of the most wide-open battles for the county singles crown in recent memory.
The last two years, Cedar Crest's Madison Fortna impressively ruled the roost, but has since graduated. Prior to that, Elco's Maddy Shaak dominated for three straight years.
This year, when the county tourney convenes at Cedar Crest on Sept. 12, no less than four different players figure to be legitimate title contenders:
• There's Elco senior Sydney Nye, the runner-up to Fortna last season and the biggest hitter among the contenders.
"Sydney is a smart player who can place the ball, and she has a ton of power," Elco coachCook said. "We're looking forward to great things from her this season."
• There's also Cedar Crest's Greta Strunk, who enjoyed a superb 2014 season at No. 2 singles for the Falcons, as well as in doubles as Fortna's partner during a wild ride to the district finals and state quarterfinals.
A steady baseliner, Strunk has the most big-match experience of the contenders and should be able to use it to her advantage come the county tournament.
• And don't forget Annville-Cleona's Alicia Hitz, who made a surprise run to the Lancaster-Lebanon League Class AA singles last season.
The A-C senior also gave Fortna all she could handle in the county semis last season, and is a big reason why optimism is running high in Annville right now.
• There's also a wildcard in the mix in Northern Lebanon's Maja Andersson, an exchange student from Denmark.
Though new to the country and the county, Andersson is no stranger to tennis, having played the game since the age of 8. She's been impressive so far, according to NL coach Carrie Ann Derr, so Andersson may make an impact at the county tourney.
• Not to be left out are Palmyra's Alli Lynn and Lebanon's Amelia Kuhn, the No. 1 players for their respective teams. Though not expected to contend for the title, if they're in the tournament draw they're capable of pulling an upset and making this year's tournament even more wide-open than expected.
Stay tuned. And while you're pondering the possibilities, take a look at the following capsule previews of each of the six Lebanon County girls' tennis teams:
Coach: Pete Nguyen, 2nd year
Last year's record: 5-8
Key players lost: Sarah Berger
Top returning players: Alicia Hitz (Sr.), Emma Lerchen (Sr.), Katia Luu (Sr.), April Barley, Addie Heeter (Sr.)
Promising newcomers: Katie Nyce (Jr.), Jordan Bowman (Jr.)
OUTLOOK>> Led by L-L AA singles runner-up Hitz, A-C enjoyed a very respectable 2014 season, and should improve on that this fall with a strong core group of upperclassmen back in the fold.
"With a hungry varsity team of seniors coming off an improved season, we look to make some noise this year," Nguyen said. "Additionally, our team has grown younger with five freshmen joining this year."
Coach: Gila Hodge,13th year
Last year's record: 11-4 overall, District 3 Class AAA quarterfinalists.
Key players lost: Madison Fortna
Top returning players: Greta Strunk (Sr.), Brisa Diaz (Sr.), Keeley Hartman (Jr.), Tatyana Golub (Jr.), Abbey Castor (Jr.)
Promising newcomers: Claire Aitken (Soph.)
OUTLOOK>> The Falcons enjoyed both individual and team success last season, advancing to the district team quarterfinals and getting Fortna and Strunk all the way to the state doubles quarterfinals. County singles champ Fortna has graduated, but the rest of the squad returns intact, and along with some key additions that have helped double the roster size, Crest should be in the county title and postseason mix again.
"Last year's successes set the bar high for the 2015 squad, yet it also prepared them for this year's challenges," Hodge said. "The 2014 team had a very short roster of only 9 girls. All the girls had started and now have match experience. Goals for 2015 will include doing well at the Lebanon County Tournament, a strong power ranking and to challenge the Lancaster powerhouse schools — Manheim Township and Hempfield."
Coach: Zach Cook, 7th year
Last year's record: 5-9, Lebanon County champs
Key players lost: Hannah Kercher, Karis Brashear, Katie Shankroff
Top returning players: Sydney Nye (Sr.), Kelsey Stubblebine (Jr.), Anna Enck (Sr.), Jen Kinsey (Jr.),
Promising newcomers: Steph Palashnyuk (Jr.), Liz Palashnyuk (Jr.), Emilie Showers (Soph.), Madison Groy (Soph.), Savannah Barry (Sr.)
OUTLOOK>> The Raiders scrapped their way to the county tournament title last season despite an injury-plagued, so-so regular season and are looking to squeeze as much as they can out of a nine-player roster again this season.
Nye, the county singles runner-up will set the tone at the top of the lineup and figures to be a strong contender for county and L-L AA singles hardware. As for the team as a whole, Cook believes the Raiders can compete with, if not overwhelm, any team in Section Two.
"We'll be in the mix," Cook said. "We might surprise some people. We'll be competitive in pretty much every match."
Coach: Karen Haitos, 5th year
Last year's record: 2-11
Key players lost: Alexis Kuhnert, Mia Sumlin, Diane Chogo
Top returning players: Amelia Kuhn (Sr.), Lydines Haddock (Sr)., Katie Bartal (Jr.), Laura Gilbert (Jr.) and Kelly Cooper (Jr.)
Promising newcomers: None listed
OUTLOOK>> The Cedars have 10 players out for the team, and some experience among that group should keep them competitive at times, although not enough to make much of a dent in the Section One standings.
"We have a core group of five returning players complemented by five new players," Haitos said. "Lebanon will be competitive within the county but will struggle with the larger Lancaster County schools. I believe we will win some singles and doubles matches throughout the season; however, team wins will be few."
Coach: Carrie Ann Derr, 2nd year
Last year's record: 0-14
Key players lost: None
Top returning players: Kelly Shuey (Sr.), Nicole Ditzler (Sr.), Brianna Ditzler (Sr.), Vanessa Stickler (Sr.)
Promising newcomers: Maja Andersson (Sr.)
OUTLOOK>> The Vikings have just five players out for the team, which unfortunately means they'll have to forfeit at No. 3 doubles in every match unless a sixth player can be found.
That's the bad news. The good news is four of the five are experienced and dedicated seniors who'll be joined by Andersson, a talented exchange student from Denmark.
"It's pretty hard," Derr said of dealing with the numbers problem. "But they're playing well, we've won both of our scrimmages, so they're overcoming it."
Andersson, in particular, has shined early.
"She's very good," Derr said. "She's been playing since she was eight. I expect her to do very well."
Coach: Matt Opilo, 10th year
Last year's record: 5-9
Key players lost: Emily Bucks, Maggie Jelliff,
Top returning players: Alli Lynn (Soph.), Tia Offner (Sr.), Amber Kuligowski (Sr.), Miranda Pells (Sr.), Rachael Speck (Sr.), Julia Walker (Sr.)
Promising newcomers: Cassidy Hoffer (Jr.)
OUTLOOK>> The Cougars were solid, if unspectacular, a season ago and Opilo is optimistic that they'll hold their own again this season.
Senior leadership is the biggest reason for that belief, as is the presence of a promising No.1 player in Lynn, a sophomore.
"We have great senior leadership and expect to improve on last year's record," Opilo said.