On the strength of three sophomore singles players, Upper St. Clair's boys tennis team was the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament and advanced to the semifinals before falling to North Allegheny last year.
Those sophomores are juniors now, and they already enacted a bit of revenge when they took down North Allegheny in a non-section match to start the season.
"It was a good win to start with," Upper St. Clair coach Ron Mercer said. "We finished with them last year and start with them this year. We always play them in the first match of the season and they're a good team to play."
The win isn't recorded for the section standings, but Upper St. Clair hasn't lost any of the matches that do count through the first round of section play, including a 4-1 win against arch-rival Mt. Lebanon Friday.
The Panthers' success starts at the top, where juniors Fernando Escribens, Dom D'Amico and Christian Meyer occupy the three singles spots.
Escribens burst onto the scene last season, playing high school tennis for the first time after playing baseball and USTA tournaments the season before. He worked his way to the Panthers' No. 1 spot by the end of the season and took fourth in the WPIAL Class AAA singles tournament.
Escribens finished as the section singles runner-up to Mt. Lebanon's Peter Hazlett on Tuesday and D'Amico placed third to qualify for next week's WPIAL singles tournament.
"He's improved a lot," Mercer said. "He comes forward at the net more often and he concentrates pretty well. We'll see how he plays the next few weeks. Our whole sophomore class is pretty strong."
D'Amico and Meyer could both play No. 1 singles on most other teams in the WPIAL, but they play No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, for the Panthers. D'Amico was a WPIAL singles qualifier as a freshman, but didn't play in last season's tournament. Meyer qualified for districts last season. Both went to the WPIAL doubles tournament, with Meyer and Escribens taking third and D'Amico and Mike Russell advancing to the quarterfinals.
Russell is back for his senior season, and he pairs with junior Sam Schiffman at No. 1 doubles. At No. 2 doubles, the Panthers have a pair of sophomores who only saw varsity action in non-section matches last season in Anthony Abinati and Scott Russell, Mike's brother.
The expectations for this group are high to win the team's first WPIAL title since Upper St. Clair won five consecutive district championships from 2004-'08, but Mercer said the Panthers have tried their best to keep the pressure at a minimum.
"We haven't really talked about goals," Mercer said. "We're trying not to put too much pressure on us. Last year, we had high expectations and you saw what happened -- we lost to NA in the semifinals."