No tennis player at The Ellis School had been to the state tournament since the duo of Natalie Castegnero and Shannon Benic qualified for the PIAA Class AA doubles tournament in 2003.
The Ellis team hadn't qualified for the state tournament since 2001, but that changed Friday, as the Tigers defeated South Park, 4-1, in the WPIAL Class AA consolation final to secure the district's final PIAA tournament berth.
"It feels so good because these kids work so hard," said Doug Brooks, who has coached at Ellis since 2002. "Nothing has been a walkover."
Ellis' chances this season were boosted when senior Kate Rosenthal decided to play again for the Tigers. Rosenthal was the school's No. 1 singles player in 2009, but then didn't play for Ellis the past two seasons while she was playing a junior national tournament schedule.
Her return moved Maeve McAllister back to No. 2 singles. McAllister won the section title in 2010 and '11. She lost this season in the section final to Rosenthal.
But Ellis isn't just a two-player team. The Tigers didn't lose a match at any spot in their lineup during the regular season, shutting out every opponent. In fact, Ellis did not even lose a set.
"I told them that this is one of the best teams I've had," Brooks said. "It's not just about the seven girls starting. We have 12 girls who can play and would start on many teams. They are all good players."
With its undefeated record, Ellis was awarded the No. 3 seed at the WPIAL Class AA tournament. After pitching another 5-0 shutout in its first-round match against Burrell, the Tigers lost their first team points of the season against Greensburg Central Catholic. But Ellis prevailed by a 3-2 score to advance to the semifinals, where it met No. 2 seed Quaker Valley.
The Quakers were too strong a team, taking down Ellis, 4-1. That meant Ellis had to beat South Park to qualify for the PIAA tournament.
The Tigers were the stronger team as Rosenthal dispatched Chelsea Carter, 6-1, 6-2 at No. 1 singles. At No. 2 singles, McAllister fell, 6-3, in the first set, but then rallied after a talk with Brooks to win the second set, 6-3, and third, 6-0, to take the match.
"I just told her that she had worked too hard over the last eight years," Brooks said. "I said, 'Pick it up and go to work.' She picked it up."
South Park got its lone win at No. 3 singles, as Alyssa Snodgrass beat Sam Syme, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1. But Ellis swept the doubles matches, with Leah Kazar and Eugenie Auturo winning at No. 1 doubles, 6-2, 6-0, over Savannah Curry and Cassidy Jackson and Charley Myers and Lainie Edwards prevailing over Jessica DeAngelis and Emily Somerhalder, 6-1, 6-2.
"Ellis is very good," said South Park coach Chuck Correll Jr.. "They are a deep team and a very well-coached team."
Just beating South Park and qualifying for states was a huge feat for Ellis. But that's where things ended for the Tigers. They lost, 4-1, to Mercyhurst Prep Tuesday in Erie to end their season.
"We've won the section quite a few times, but haven't been to states in 12 years," Brooks said. "It's such a great accomplishment for a small girls school."