North Xtra: North Allegheny enjoys banner year

Tigers claim WPIAL Class AAA title

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North Allegheny excels in virtually every high school sport, having won WPIAL titles in 10 sports in the past decade alone.

But coming into this season, a district title had eluded the Tigers' girls tennis program. When Michelle Weniger took over as coach of the team 10 years ago, one of the first things she noticed was how far behind in championships her team was compared to other sports at the school.

"When I first started to coach, I walked into the North Allegheny gymnasium and noticed that we didn't have a banner," Weniger said. "So I went and asked our athletic director, Bob Bozzuto, 'Bob, why don't we have a banner? All the other sports have a banner but girls tennis doesn't have a banner.'

"He said, 'Because you haven't won WPIALs.'"

The Tigers did get a state championship title in 2008, but still were looking for the elusive WPIAL title heading into this season. North Allegheny had lost in the district team finals in 1997, 2003, 2007 and 2008.

The Tigers entered the Class AAA district tournament this year as the No. 1 seed and cruised through their first two matches by scores of 5-0.

The Tigers were challenged in the semifinals by Mt. Lebanon, but they outlasted the Blue Devils, 3-2.

That set up a Class AAA final between North Allegheny and Shady Side Academy. The Indians were in their eighth final in nine years and had beaten the Tigers in the 2008 WPIAL title match. They also ended North Allegheny's 2012 season in the district semifinals.

Prior to the match, Weniger sent her team members an email to get them prepared.

"In the email, I said, 'FYI we do not have a banner in the gymnasium. So if we win, we get to have a banner,'" Weniger said.

North Allegheny better find space in its high school gymnasium's rafters because the Tigers' tennis team finally got its WPIAL title.

Senior Maddy Adams and freshman twin sisters Anna and Tina Li swept the singles matches in straight sets and the No. 2 doubles team of Sydney Boyd and Catherine Zhang also won in two sets to give the Tigers a 4-1 victory against the Indians last Friday at Sewickley Academy.

"We've never won WPIALs as a team for NA so it was kind of a big deal for us," Adams said. "Especially since we lost to Shady Side in the semifinals last year. It was good to get a little bit of revenge for not doing as well as we wanted to last year."

Adams is only one of two seniors in the starting lineup for the Tigers. North Allegheny was supposed to have three, but last season's No. 1 player, Kylie Isaacs, told Weniger shortly before the season that she was going to just play amateur tennis.

So that moved Adams up from No. 2 to No. 1 singles. Adams, however, missed several weeks as she dealt with a blister issue on her hand and a shoulder injury. As a result, she missed the section singles tournament.

In Adams' absence, Anna and Tina Li stepped into the top two singles spots and kept the Tigers from losing a match. The Li sisters are both ranked in the top five in the state for the class of 2016 by tennisrecruiting.net.

"We knew it was going to be a long season and our expectations are to be into the postseason so we rested her," Weniger said. "And we're very fortunate to have the Li sisters with us. So everybody just moved up and did their job."

Now with Adams back and the Li sisters at No. 2 and No. 3, along with two strong doubles teams, the Tigers should be the favorite at the state tournament.

A WPIAL team has won the PIAA Class AAA tournament title each of the past seven years, and five of those seasons it was an all-WPIAL final. So there is a possibility that Saturday will have a 2008 PIAA final rematch between the Tigers and Indians.

The Tigers advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals after sweeping City League champion Odama, 5-0, in the first round of the state tournament Tuesday.

"I think we can do pretty well [at states]," Adams said. "We've done well all season -- we haven't lost yet -- so I think we'll carry that over to states."


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