2016 Girls’ Tennis Preview

Posted: March 17, 2016
By WALT MOODY

Last season, the Handley girls’ tennis team advanced to the Group 4A semifinals before falling to eventual champion Midlothian,

While she’s lost most of the singles players from that squad, Judges coach Martha Johnson believes the team can still make a another deep run in the state tournament this year.

“I think that really inspired a lot of our girls,” Johnson said of a postseason run that included knocking off previously unbeaten E.C. Glass in the the regional semifinals.

Johnson is optimistic because of some solid returnees from last year’s 15-5 team, plus an influx of freshman talent.

Meredith Watts returns at the top of the Judges’ lineup. In her freshman season, Watts capture the Conference 23 singles title and was a semifinalist in Region 4A North. She was 16-7 in singles and 10-2 in doubles.

“She’s just an incredible athlete,” Johnson said of Watts, who also is a varsity volleyball player and swimmer.

The Judges also return Olivia Truban, who was dominant with a 15-1 mark at No. 4 singles last year and Josie Sydnor who played at No. 3 doubles last season.

The freshman talent that has Johnson excited is Cat Truban, Lillian Smith and Leah Meneau.

“I didn’t know these girls,” said Johnson, a teacher at Daniel Morgan Middle School. “They didn’t go to Daniel Morgan. I had heard about them but they show up and could do amazing things with the tennis ball.”

Sisters Laurel and Anna Griffin, along with Saloni Sabatino, Emma Lantelme-Capitano and Caroline Skiles could see time in the lineup.

“We have the upper part figured out, but there’s a big clump of them within a game or two on any particular day,” Johnson said. “I look for us to have a lot of depth and a fluid lineup as we start the season.”

The Judges, who won Conference 23 last season, will have plenty of experienced competition as they move to Conference 21 West.

Sherando returns four singles players from a team that broke a school mark for wins in a 14-4 season.

Abigale Lukens and Abigail Sears are at the top of the singles lineup. Lukens was a Conference 21 semifinalist last season. Alisa van de Crommert (No. 3) and Sarah Blaney (No. 5) also return.

Trevor Johnson also is buoyed by an influx of talent, The roster has swelled to 16 players, the most he’s had to work with in his seven seasons. Freshman Alexa Venturato will start the season at either the No. 3 or 4 singles spot.

“It looks to be a really good group,” Trevor Johnson said. “We have a lot of depth and they’re already battling each other trying to claim spots and climb up the ladder. … They’re all battlers. If I ask who wants to be No. 1, they all want to do it. They challenge each other all of the time and they push each other. It’s a great group.”

The Warriors coach hopes his team will contend in the Conference 21 West and Northwestern District races.

“I expect it to be about the same as usual,” he said. “Until someone dethrones Handley, Handley seems to be the team to beat.”

But Johnson said his team is motivated off a fine season.

“They want to try to do the best that they can,” he said. “Last year was the best girls’ record Sherando has ever had. They want to see if they can beat that. They want to see what they can do.”

Sharon Sweet also is excited to see what her James Wood team is able to accomplish.

The Colonels return Megan Hillyard and Carlee Goslin to the singles lineup.

Hillyard, a junior, will play at No. 1 in singles and doubles, but Sweet says she’s more valuable in other ways.

“Her tennis is consistent, but her role as a leader has changed,” Sweet said of Hillyard, the team’s No. 2 player a season ago. “Last year, she was a sophomore to the seniors. With losing the seniors we have a vacancy of leadership and she’s done a great job of stepping up and working with the younger girls.”

Those youngsters are making an impact. Freshmen Lily Kimble, Taylin Crosen and Morgan Burner start the season in the singles lineup. Crosen will play at No. 1 doubles with Hillyard.

“I’m just excited to see what they can do this season,” Sweet said. “I’m already seeing some of the freshmen jumping into the top six. I’m excited about their work ethic and their passion for tennis, but for the freshmen — even as intimidating as it is — to step into and fill the spots we have open for the seniors who graduated last year.”

Millbrook returns a mix of veterans.

Annie Cebrzynski and Kyle Buza return at the top two singles slots. Cebrzynski was 10-5 and advanced to the Conference 21 quarterfinals last season.

Tiffany Javins Fender, Sarah Woolverton and Shanna Marin-Pierce also are back in singles. Newcomer Abigail Taylor opened the season in the No. 6 slot.

“We’ve come back in this season not quite where we left off at the end of last year,” Pioneers coach Dawnette Jones said. “We still have a little bit of work to get back where we were.”

Jones said Marin-Pierce and Woolverton have made significant strides since last spring.

“Shanna has improved in the fundamentals of her game,” Jones said. “Now she just needs the mental improvement, but that’s part of you have to be in game situations to really understand how to fight and keep yourself going. She’ll learn that.”

Woolverton is 2-0 in singles and was unbeaten in preseason scrimmages when teaming with Marin-Pierce in doubles.

Clarke County coach Ted Schulhof is literally starting over this season. The Eagles lost five singles players from last season and Chloe Payton, the lone returnee, is injured as the campaign begins.

Still, Schulhof won’t call it a “rebuilding” season.

“I refuse to use those words, but yeah this is like major building blocks all-around,” he said. “It’s really an enthusiastic group. They’re doing anything I ask of them. We’re having a lot of fun and we’ll see what happens.”

With Payton on the mend, freshmen Anne Herndon and Aaliyah McFarland are “duking it out” for the top singles spot. Returnees Trisha Vergara, Kayla Shaw and Olivia Rhodes are in the singles mix.

Schulhof said perennial Conference 35 and Bull Run District favorite George Mason will be the teams to beat.

While his players are inexperienced, he likes their effort.

“They have a lot of initiative,” he said. “They have lots of enthusiasm. I’ll show up and some of them are there early and running. They’re doing stuff without me having to come in and yell at them, which is nice. They just have a super attitude.”

Here is a capsule look at the area teams:

Handley

Coach: Martha Johnson, fourth year

Last year: 15-5, 8-0 Northwestern District; Conference 23 champion, Group 4A semifinalist

Key losses: Maddy Skedsvold, Jamie Miller, Emma Foster

Top returning players: Meredith Watts, So.; Olivia Truban, Sr.; Josie Sydnor, So.; Laurel Griffin, Jr.; Anna Griffin, Jr.; Emma Lantelme-Capitano, So.; Caroline Skiles, Sr.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Cat Truban, Fr.; Lillian Smith, Fr.; Leah Meneau, Fr.; Saloni Sabatino, So.

Johnson’s outlook: “We want to go as far as we did last year and realize that we have that power to do that and not be surprised by our success. We can do that. We pulled off some amazing wins and even the Midlothian match we gave them a good show and that was a strong formidable team. It was hard to lose, but we gave it a good shot. I was proud of how we ended the season.”

First match: Today at George Mason

Sherando

Coach: Trevor Johnson, seventh year.

Last year: 14-4, 6-2 Northwestern District; Conference 21 semifinalist

Key losses: Maria Acosta, Olivia Scott

Top returning players: Abigale Lukens, Sr.; Abigail Sears, Jr; Alisa van de Crommert, Jr.; Sarah Blaney, So.; Meredith Gregg, Jr.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Alexa Venturato, Fr,; Kathryn Robertson, So.; Kealeigh Eckman, Fr.; Kaitlyn Duncan, So.; Terrian Jennings, Jr.

Johnson’s outlook: “I keep telling them they have to believe in themselves. That’s the biggest part for them, the mental aspect and belief that they can go as far as they want to go. They’re going to be a pretty tough group.”

First match: Today at Central

James Wood

Coach: Sharon Sweet, sixth year

Last year: 4-11, 2-6 Northwestern District; Conference 21 quarterfinalist

Key losses: Ashley Hillyard, Katie Schott, Allie Cooper, Fernanda Franco

Top returning players: Megan Hillyard, Jr.; Carlee Gosline, Jr.; Courtney Dyer, So.; Emma Evans, So..

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Lily Kimble, Fr.; Taylin Crosen, Fr.; Morgan Burner, Fr.; Katelyn Harris, Fr.

Sweet’s outlook: “I feel like we’re strong all of the way through No. 1 through No. 6. With these freshmen and the returning players, the drive is there. I’m so excited to see what they can do. I don’t know what the other schools are going to offer this season, but I do think we’re going to be competitive. I hope for the best, but it’s still a young team. I’m very confident in what they can do this season.”

First match: Today at Clarke County

Millbrook

Coach: Dawnette Jones, third year

Last year: 5-11, 1-6 Northwestern District, Conference 21 quarterfinalist

Key losses: None

Top returning players: Annie Cebrzynski, Sr.; Kyle Buza, Jr.; Tiffany Javins Fender, Sr.; Sarah Woolverton, Sr.; Shanna Marin-Pierce, So.; Emily Woodward, So.; Sarah Renner, So.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Abigail Taylor, So.: Alli Vilchez, So.

Jones’ outlook: “Hopefully we can get to the points where we finished last season pretty early on. I’m looking to improve in the next couple of weeks so that we can really be ready to go once we get into the meat of our schedule.”

Record: 1-1

Next match: Wednesday vs. Clarke County

Clarke County

Coach: Ted Schulhof, ninth year

Last year: 3-14, 2-4 Bull Run District, Conference 35 quarterfinalist

Key losses: Erika Hutchinson, Katy Kosiorek, Syenna Graham, Kristen George, Melissa Forbes,

Top returning players: Chloe Payton, Jr.; Trisha Vergara, Sr.; Kayla Shaw, Sr.; Nathaly Santos, Sr.; Olivia Rhodes, Sr.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Anne Herndon, Fr.; Aaliyah McFarland, Fr.; Maria Vinson, Fr.

Schulhof’s outlook: “With the seniors, I look for some leadership and a lot of enjoyment as they close out their high school careers. With the ninth and 10th graders, they’re on a three and four-year plan. I can tell they really like tennis and that counts for a lot.”

First match: Today vs. James Wood

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