North/East Xtra: Gateway girl wins Section 3 title

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Neither Gateway's Sammy Memije nor Shady Side Academy's Ananya Dua played high school tennis during their freshman years.

But their decisions to play for their respective schools this season has helped make the 2013 WPIAL Class AAA singles field the deepest it has been in some time.

The WPIAL tournament began Wednesday and is scheduled to conclude today at 2:30 p.m. with championship and third-place consolation matches at North Allegheny High School.

"I can't remember it being this good in the past four or five years," Shady Side Academy coach Tom Mercer said.

Memije and Dua, both sophomores, were both expected to be in the mix this week after Memije defeated Dua, 6-1, 6-0, to win the Class AAA Section 3 singles title last week.

The win kept Memije, who is ranked No. 4 in the state in the Class of 2016 by tennisrecruiting.net, unbeaten this season.

"[Memije] is a very aggressive baseline player," said Rashid Hassan, who has coached both Memije and Dua for the past five years. "She has a lot of power and is very explosive."

Memije, who lives in Monroeville, is also very confident.

"I know there's going to be some very good competition [at the upcoming tournaments], but I don't expect to lose," she said. "At least that's my goal. I want to go undefeated this season."

Dua, a Murrysville resident, has also had a successful first season as the Indians' No. 1 player.

Shady Side Academy has made the PIAA tournament in eight consecutive seasons and reached the state final in 2012.

It's the team aspect of the sport that led both Dua and Memije to the high school circuit this season.

"I wanted to play and support my team," Dua said. "I felt badly last year that I couldn't help them out.

"It's been really fun so far."

Hassan, who is a former professional tennis player who once played for Zimbabwe's Davis Cup team, isn't keen on his pupils playing high school tennis.

He understands that they want to play with their friends, and want to be a part of a team, but thinks it's not as beneficial as training or competing in USTA tournaments.

"I've been doing this 13 years, and I've had a lot of high school kids and a lot of kids not in high school," Hassan said. "And more and more of the best players are now being cyber-schooled or play at academies.

"So high school players are always playing catch up because those being cyber-schooled or playing at academies are getting four to five hours of training in each day. Meanwhile, we train two-and-a-half to three hours a day. But if they have a match, they may finish it in 15 minutes but still have to wait two hours for the rest of the match to finish. That's hurting them."

Hassan did credit Gateway coach Rochelle Seilhamer, as well as Mercer, for continuing to let Memije and Dua work with him as well as compete in national tournaments.

He also said he would be surprised if Memije and Dua played high school tennis beyond this season. Both girls said they haven't made that decision yet, but both acknowledged that this could be their only season playing for their schools.

In the meantime, both players are enjoying playing with their friends and are looking forward to the rest of the season.

They credit Hassan for helping them reach the level they have displayed so far in their careers.

"He's basically the reason where I'm at now," Memije said. "I wouldn't be where I am at this point without him."

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