Senior girl makes impact on North Allegheny boys tennis team

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North Allegheny senior Kylie Isaacs has a chance today to make it to the WPIAL Class AAA singles tournament for the fourth time in her career.

This time will be a little different, although her opponent will be familiar.

After making it to the WPIAL girls tournament in her first three years of high school, she will attempt to make the WPIAL boys tournament this year when she faces her brother, sophomore Jared Isaacs, in the Class AAA Section 2 third-place match at North Allegheny High School.

Only the top three finishers from each section advance to the WPIAL tournament, which starts next week.

"It's going to be interesting, but it's not going to change our relationship," Kylie said of facing her brother. "We're still going to drive home together and eat dinner together because it's just a game. I think it will be fun."

Getting the opportunity to play with her brother was one factor in her choice to play for the boys tennis team this season, a decision that was hatched in the fall just before the start of the girls tennis season.

At that time, Kylie had recently gotten an offer to play tennis at Duquesne University, and after talking with her personal tennis coach, Rob Gregoire, who also happens to be the Duquesne's men's tennis coach, she decided she wanted to spend the fall playing in more competitive tournaments to prepare for college tennis.

"She wanted to play at the highest level of [United States Tennis Association], and most of their schedule occurs in the fall," Gregoire said. "So she put her focus on that."

She also wanted to improve her strength and flexibility, so she spent time during the week working out with a personal trainer at Alpha Tennis & Fitness of Pittsburgh, while also taking hot yoga classes near her Wexford residence.

That left little time for Isaacs to play the high school girls season, so she called North Allegheny girls tennis coach Michelle Weniger a few days before tryouts and told her she would not be playing for the Tigers.

"It was a very tough phone call for me to make," Isaacs said. "I had a good relationship with the coach and we were close. I was close with the team. It was a difficult decision, but one I needed to make."

Isaacs continued to follow her former team, which went on to win the PIAA Class AAA team title. And she still wanted to be part of a team, so she decided that she would try out for the boys team in the spring, when her tournament schedule was lighter.

It also would give her a chance to play on a team with her younger brother.

"I was really shocked at first when she and my parents told me," Jared said, "But then I thought about it for five minutes and knew that we could be really successful this year."

Jared said the rest of the team's reaction mirrored his.

"Everyone was a little flustered at first and was wondering, 'Is this even legal with the school?' " Jared said. "But then she practiced with us and they realized, 'Wow, she's really good.' They knew she could help us."

According to WPIAL director Tim O'Malley, the PIAA rules stipulate that an athlete in sports that have a boys and girls team at a school can only play one for a particular season. So if a school allows it, a boy could play on a girls tennis team, but then wouldn't be permitted to play on the boys team that same year. Likewise, since Kylie didn't play for the girls team in the fall, she is allowed to play for the boys in the spring.

Kylie isn't the only girl playing boys tennis this season. In fact, she isn't the only girl playing in her own section, as Helena Varys is playing for North Hills.

But other than Quaker Valley's Annie Houghton, who became the first girl to win a WPIAL boys single title when she took the Class AA championship in 2006 after missing the girls season because of a knee injury, not many girls have made as big an impact at a premiere program as Kylie.

Because of an injury to North Allegheny's top player, Kevin Goth, Kylie has been playing No. 1 singles for the 2013 WPIAL runner-up Tigers. She has been vital to the North Allegheny's 6-0 start, with her only losses coming against Pine-Richland's Caleb Kramer, the WPIAL Class AAA singles third-place finisher in 2013, in a team match March 20 and to the Rams' Ben Vinarski in the section singles semifinals Monday.

"It's worked out very well," North Allegheny boys tennis coach Dom Gliozzi said. "She's enjoying it and we're enjoying having her."

Which makes Kylie believe she made the right call in the fall.

"I feel it was the right decision for me," she said. "I got to get a lot of match-play experience in tournaments and I got into better shape.

"I missed the girls team; that was the toughest part. But this is something I had to do."

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