North Xtra: Pine-Richland a section contender again
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Talk about your triple crown -- the Pine-Richland girls tennis team's graduation departures from last season ran the gamut.
The Rams entered this season knowing they must replace a four-year starter, a three-year starter and a two-year starter.
Luckily for the Rams, the two most prominent players who remained are two of the best in the area.
Senior Taylor Perz and sophomore Marlys Bridgham headline Pine-Richland once again as the Rams set out to make their fifth consecutive semifinal appearance in the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament.
"We have some really good players who graduated, but all that means is we've got plenty of good players who can compete for positions this year," Perz said. "I think if that turns out well, the way we think it can, we'll be competitive just as we have in years past."
Pine-Richland has won at least a share of the past four team section championships. The past two years, the Rams have tied North Allegheny for the title.
This season, they're striving for the same thing after losing to the Tigers, 3-2, in their section-opening match on Aug. 24. Pine-Richland (2-2, 2-1) also lost a non-section match to WPIAL title contender Peters Township and defeated section rivals Hampton and North Hills in the season's first two weeks.
The Rams were rained out of a section match against Seneca Valley Tuesday and are scheduled to play Butler Area in a section match today.
In her second season at first singles after spending her first two varsity years at second singles behind Olivia Heim, Perz is ranked No. 19 by the USTA among players in the 18 age group in its Middle States Region that covers New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and parts of West Virginia.
Assuming she stays healthy, Perz will likely graduate as Pine-Richland's all-time girls tennis match victories leader.
Bridgham is No. 13 in the Middle States 16 age grouping.
Last season, Bridgham and Perz qualified for the WPIAL singles tournament by placing among the top three at the Section 2-AAA tournament. Perz advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
The pair teamed for doubles, winning the section tournament and advancing to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
"They're both tall, thin girls who can cover a lot of court," Rams coach Janet Chappell said. "They have good serves and good forehands, all-court players with very similar games."
Seniors Chrissy Spero and Katie Riley are next on the Rams' depth chart, typically with Spero at either third singles or first doubles, and with Riley pegged at first doubles.
Junior Holly Sedory also is in the first doubles mix, and sophomores Laura Seger and Amy Clarke often will play second doubles. Twins Sydney and Hudson Herring and fellow senior Cassie Dunn, as well as junior Sneha Iyer, are other varsity players capable of contributing.
"They certainly are a close team," Chappell said. "They've bonded well. When you only have three courts to work on, it works out that way."
Renovations at the high school have forced the team to practice at Richland Elementary.
"It's kind of a neat experience socially this year getting to share the team captaincy now that I'm a senior with two other girls on the team," Perz said. "We really played well together, and we're just trying to create a team unity this year. We know on the court and off the court we kind of need to stick together."
The expectations haven't changed for a program that has been so consistent in its accomplishments in recent years. Pine-Richland regularly has penciled itself into a piece of a section title and WPIAL team semifinal berth.
"I definitely would love to take another section championship," Perz said. "We can't win it outright because we lost to NA [North Allegheny], but we've shared the section title many times and we can again if we did get them back.
"That's my biggest goal for the team. I think that would be really exciting personally to get a fourth team section championship. That would be a really fun thing to have all four years."
First Published September 8, 2011 12:00 am