Last season, North Allegheny's tennis team unexpectedly lost its top player, Kylie Isaacs, right before the start of the season when she opted to concentrate on USTA tennis and left the Tigers varsity.
But Maddy Adams stepped into the No. 1 singles spot, freshmen Anna and Tina Li played No. 2 and 3 singles and they, along with a deep group of doubles players, helped the Tigers win their second state title in school history.
Adams, along with No. 1 doubles starter Jenn Hofmann, graduated, but the rest of the starting lineup is back and the Tigers (6-0, 5-0) are once again among the favorites in Class AAA.
Anna Li has taken over for Adams at No. 1 singles and, entering the week had won all her matches this season in straight sets. She is currently the No. 3-ranked player in the state in the class of 2017, according to tennisrecruiting.net.
"She's been playing very well," North Allegheny coach Michelle Weniger said. "It's a very difficult line to play because every team has a good player and some have really good players. But she's been handling the position well. She spends a lot of time on the court year-round."
Li's sister, Tina, is the state's fourth-ranked player in the class of 2017 by tennisrecruiting.net, but she has yet to take the court in a match for the Tigers this season.
Tina Li, who won the PIAA Class AAA doubles title with Adams last season, broke her foot in May and spent the summer in a walking boot. Weniger said Li has been out of the boot since the start of training camp, but she is still working her way back into playing form.
Weniger is hopeful she can play against Peters Township today. When she does return, Li will start at first doubles.
"While she continues to strengthen her right leg, she'll start at doubles with the goal of her working up to No. 2 singles," Weniger said. "That's the goal, but we're going to take it slowly."
In Li's absence, ninth-grader Eugenia Lee has stepped in and excelled. Lee is the No. 5-ranked freshman in Pennsylvania and hasn't lost a match for the Tigers yet this season.
Her toughest match came last week against Mt. Lebanon sophomore Skylar Morgan, a WPIAL Class AAA doubles quarterfinalist in 2013. Lee won the first set handily, 6-0, but was pushed in the second set before holding off Morgan, 7-5.
"In the second set, there was a lot of excitement on the other end and I thought [Lee] handled it well," Weniger said. "She stayed focused and pulled it out.
"As a coach, I was pleased to see her be able to keep it together and win an excellent high school match."
Rounding out the singles for North Allegheny is junior Tristyn Maalouf, who played No. 1 doubles last season and has yet to lose this season.
Co-captains Sydney Boyd and Catherine Zhang, who played No. 2 doubles for the Tigers last season, are both back at doubles this season. Boyd is playing No. 1 doubles with senior Catherine Liu, while Zhang is playing No. 2 doubles with senior Jacqueline Cannella.
The Tigers entered the week having won four of their five matches by a score of 5-0, but Weniger keeps preaching to her team to remember how difficult the matches can get once postseason play begins.
"Last year was a fantastic experience," she said. "But it was a really difficult season. Once you make it to the postseason, every team is very good and every line is very good.
"So, I talk to them about remembering last year and remembering the journey. We're tapping into that experience from last year every time we take the court. Winning the WPIAL title and the state title can only help them. It's not a mystery, anymore."