PG North: Despite lots of attrition, North Allegheny just reloads
September 9, 2010 4:00 AM
Kylie Isaacs, North Allegheny's No. 1 singles player, returns a shot against Sewickley Academy in a match last week.
By Chris Adamski Tri-State Sports & News Service
One of the behemoths of local scholastic girls' tennis, North Allegheny perpetually reloads.
The Tigers returned only three experienced varsity players from last season's team that was a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinalist -- a mediocre season by North Allegheny standards. But they return this season arguably as strong as ever.
As co-captain Mikayla Becich put it, "NA is a big school. There's always going to be someone coming up who's good to take your place."
That was the case this season for the Tigers, who added four new faces to the lineup -- three freshmen and a student who is new to the district.
"We have a lot of great new talent this year," said Becich, one of only two returning starters. "It looks like we have a pretty good shot at [qualifying for the PIAA tournament]."
North Allegheny (7-0, 5-0) won its first five Section 2-AAA matches, including a victory against neighboring rival and WPIAL power Pine-Richland, and appears to be excelling despite the fact many of its top players from a year ago either graduated or elected not to play high school tennis.
"We have a pretty young team, but a team that will get better as the season goes on," first singles player Kylie Isaacs said.
Isaacs is one of the freshmen, and she is taking on the highest-profile role. She has handled being the team's top player as if she were a veteran.
"Kylie is very athletic, so that's always a plus," North Allegheny coach Michelle Weniger said. "She's very well-balanced as a freshman.
"She handles success. She's pleased about it, but she doesn't get overjoyed. And if she happens not to win a match, she seems eager to listen to any comments or words of encouragement or anything that may help or be of assistance to her. She wants very much to help the team, so I'm just really pleased at her maturity as a freshman. She's handled being No. 1 very well. That is a huge plus. It's nice to get to coach her; she's a lovely young lady."
"It doesn't matter how old you are," Isaacs said. "It's just a matter of going into a match with a lot of spunk knowing that it doesn't matter how old you are; just how hard you try and how well you play that day."
Isaacs trains throughout the year with North Allegheny teammates Becich and sisters Tiffany and Elizabeth Kollah under the tutelage of Rob Gregoire. Becich, a veteran leader, plays second singles and the Kollah sisters team at first doubles.
The third freshman starter is Maddy Adams, who is at No. 3 singles.
"She dominates there," Weniger said. "Maddy is able to adjust her game to all kinds of tennis that she will face."
Alice Agassandian is a senior, but she is new to the team and the area. Agassandian moved from the Midwest this summer, and she joined the lineup as a second doubles player along with junior Megan Zuley.
Senior Rachel Pearson is another co-captain ["We're very lucky to have her," Weniger said]. She and another freshman, Jenn Hofmann, have played together at second doubles. Juniors Julie Arnold and Mara Ott also have filled in successfully.
It is a revamped lineup compared to last season with plenty of new faces. But these Tigers have meshed together well, almost immediately.
"It seems like we have really good chemistry," Isaacs said.
There's a long way to go, of course, this season, but Weniger, who is in her sixth full season as coach, was impressed by the way North Allegheny passed its first test. The Tigers beat Pine-Richland, one of a handful of teams expected to contend for the WPIAL title.
"That was a huge win," Weniger said. "I think it was a big builder of confidence in the team and to me as their coach. I was interested to see how well they'd handle playing against a team of that caliber because I do have such a young team. And they did well on many levels."