PG North: Pine-Richland figures to be a contender
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How can the Pine-Richland girls' tennis team have one of its top players from last season graduate, yet still have arguably improved its lineup?
One of the top freshmen in the WPIAL, Marlys Bridgham seemingly will allow the Rams to move on without Olivia Heim, half of the reigning WPIAL Class AAA doubles champion.
"Having Marlys is great," senior Amy O'Donnell said. "When you've got a freshman who plays in [USTA] tournaments come on the team and already be a really good starter, it's really awesome."
Bridgham is off to a solid start for the Rams, who have Section 2-AAA title aspirations this season. Bridgham is ranked No. 9 by the USTA in the girls 14-and-under division in its Middle States region that covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and parts of West Virginia.
"She's an athlete," Pine-Richland coach Janet Chappell said. "She really is. What can I say? She's going to be a really good player in the future. This year, she's good, but she's going to be very, very strong.
"She has good height. She just looks like a tennis player, looks like an athlete."
Bridgham joins a lineup that returned five other players with starting experience from last season when Pine-Richland tied North Allegheny for the section title and was a WPIAL team semifinalist.
It marked the third consecutive season the Rams made the semifinals.
"I think we're just as good this season as we have been in the four years since I've been here, if not better," said O'Donnell, who has been playing third singles or first doubles in the season's early going.
"We have a great team; we've got four really good starters at the top of the team, and then at the bottom of [the lineup], we have a lot of competition for starting spots."
Entering the week, Bridgham was slotted as Pine-Richland's No. 2 singles player. Junior Taylor Perz, who teamed with Heim to win the WPIAL doubles title last season, is ranked among the top 15 of the USTA's Middle States region among the girls' 16 age group. She is the team's No. 1 singles player.
Seniors Daniela Osio and O'Donnell have been occupying the No. 3 singles spot and one of the first doubles positions in the lineup interchangeably (on occasion, Chappell said the two could be doubles teammates, depending on the matchup against an opponent).
O'Donnell is a four-year starter, and Osio has been starting since her sophomore season.
The three remaining lineup spots are planned on being divided among six players: Senior Claire Vetter, sophomore Sneha Iyer, junior Katie Riley, junior Chrissy Spero and freshman Laura Feger, with junior Hudson Herringer also in the mix.
"It depends on who steps up," Chappell said.
Pine-Richland was dominant in winning some early-season matches, but the Rams did lose to North Allegheny, setting up a likely must-win scenario in the rematch later on in the season if they want to achieve their goal of a section championship.
"It's a good group," said Chappell, in her 20th season as coach. "We're a little stronger than maybe I thought we would be. Marlys is further along than I anticipated as a ninth grader. We'll see what happens.
"You're never really sure how a young player is going to react, especially once school gets started. You just don't know. Sometimes they react real well and sometimes they don't. I've had players just go south after school starts."
The Rams figure once again to be able to make deep runs in the WPIAL team, singles and doubles tournaments. The top two in each qualify for the PIAA championships.
"We're really working on team spirit this year," O'Donnell said. "We had a preseason party where we all hung out. That was the first time we've done that. We're all getting along really well. It's great."
Senior Olivia Heim returns as the top singles player for the Pine-Richland girls' tennis team.
First Published September 2, 2010 12:00 am