2017 Girls' Tennis Preview

By WALT MOODY THE WINCHESTER STAR | The Winchester Star

The Sherando girls’ tennis team did some things last spring that it had never accomplished in its 23 previous seasons.

The Warriors beat Handley for the first time ever, then did it twice more on the way to the Conference 21 West title. They advanced past the regional round for the first time and went all the way to the Group 4A semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Midlothian.

Amidst all of the highest highs, it was that 5-0 loss to Midlothian, which had won the previous two 4A crowns, that coach Trevor Johnson said his team learned from the most.

 “I think it inspired them to realize that they had another step that they needed to take,” said Johnson, whose team went set a school record for wins in a 17-3 last season. “They need to be a little more aggressive and attack a little more. They saw that when they played Midlothian.

“What Midlothian did to us, Midlothian did to everybody. Midlothian did that to [Hanover 5-0 in the finals], too. Midlothian was really aggressive and smart and that’s something that we need to try to take to that level, too.”

It may take a high level of play to get out of Conference 21 West. Handley (11-6) advanced to the 4A West regionals last season and went to the state semifinals before falling to Midlothian in 2015. Millbrook went 12-5 last fall and James Wood returns its entire lineup from last season.

For many years, Handley dominated, but the competition has caught up.

“I think it’s a double-edged sword,” Handley’s Martha Johnson said of local rivalries. “You’re glad that the competition has gotten better in our neighborhood. It’s good for tennis and I hope we get some little kids playing tennis. On the other side, we really don’t have to travel out of area to get matches. We’re going to have our hands full with our neighbors. That’s a good problem.”

“If you can get competition within the conference, that bodes well for the postseason,” Trevor Johnson said. “That helps out a lot.”

The Warriors return four of their top singles players from last season and several others who saw action. Currently it’s a battle for the top singles spot.

Sophomore Alexa Venturato went 11-6 at No. 2 last season. Abigail Sears played at No. 3 and Sarah Blaney went 18-1 at No. 4.

Trevor Johnson said either could play at No. 1.

“That’s how tough it is for them,” he said. “That’s nice for a coach to be able to say, ‘Any of you could be No. 1.’ During the challenge matches before the season, there was no clear-cut winner. They beat each other. I told them, ‘Until, one of you steps up, you’re my No. 1 through No. 3.’”

Returnees Kathryn Robertson and Meredith Gregg are battling for the No. 4 singles spot.

“They look pretty good,” Trevor Johnson said. “We’re going to be solid.”

Handley returns Conference 21 West singles champ and two-time Winchester Star Player of the Year Meredith Watts. The junior went 16-5 last season.

“She looks as fine as she was at the end of last season,” Martha Johnson said. “To have that in the beginning is great.”

Johnson has been impressed with senior Laurel Griffin, whose twin sister Anna is also in the Judges’ Top 6. Sophomore Lillian Smith (a conference doubles finalist with Watts) and Josie Sydnor also return to the lineup. Emma Lantelme-Capitano is back and several freshmen could make an impact at some point in the season for the Judges.

Martha Johnson said her team is “fired up” for a chance to face Sherando, which defeated the Judges 5-4, 8-1 and 5-1 last season.

“Sherando has something going on that I can’t quite put my finger on, but they’ve got a lot of girls who are playing and playing well,” she said. “They’re as hungry as we are. It’s going to be a neat rivalry.”

Millbrook lost top player Annie Cebrzynski, but may have an apt replacement in Cecilia Cress, a transfer from Middleburg Academy. Cress has been impressive in a pair of scrimmage wins.

“What I really like about her coming in is she moves around the court really well, she has a great stroke as far as putting the ball where she wants it,” Millbrook coach Dawnette Jones said. “She’s very accurate. It’s exciting to watch her play.”

The Pioneers also return Kyle Buza, who went 10-5 at No. 2 singles and 12-5 at No. 1 doubles with Cebrzynski. Buza and Cress already have formed a solid bond at No. 1 doubles.

“I like the way that they’re complementing each other,” Jones said. “They both are coming in and are really aggressive at the net and are communicating really well.”

Senior Shanna Marin-Pierce and junior Abigail Taylor return and newcomers Christina Gutilla and Sylvia Asero round out the Top 6.

James Wood coach Sharon Sweet is looking at a lot of familiar faces this season. Megan Hillyard, Taylin Crosen, Lily Kimble, Morgan Burner, Carlee Gosline and Courtney Dyer are back.

“This is the first time that I’ve been able to return a whole Top 6,” Sweet said. “ It’s nice to jump back in with a group of girls who are ready to play again. They know what they are doing out there. They’re coachable. They know their doubles partners.

“Where last year it was a lot of brand new players and figuring out how we were going to fill a Top 6, this year is just a more comfortable feeling going into the season.”

Hillyard remains at No. 1.

“Her game is consistent as it has been,” Sweet said. “I really love her game. She’s persistent, consistent and just has that attitude that she’s not going to give up no matter who her competition is. I’m lucky to have her as a leader.”

Clarke County suffered through a winless season last spring, but coach Ted Schulhof is optimistic with a squad that’s made up all underclassmen.

“I’ve coached for like 20-some seasons and this is the only time I can remember where I have all ninth and 10th graders,” Schulhof said. “That’s a plus and it’s also a challenge.”

Sophomores Anne Herndon, Aaliyah McFarland and Maria Vinson return at the top three singles slots and Schulhof will look to newcomers, mostly freshmen, to fill out the lineup.

He hopes with so many young players the Eagles can build toward challenging Conference 35 favorite George Mason in the years to come.

“They’ve got a lot of spirit and a lot of effort,” he said of the team. “We’re having a good time. They’ve shown lots of improvement just in the [few] weeks they’ve been out there.”

The following is a brief look at the area teams:

Sherando

Coach: Trevor Johnson, eighth year

Last year: 17-3, Conference 21 West champion, Group 4A semifinalist

Key losses: Abigale Lukens, Alisa van de Crommert

Top returning players: Alexa Venturato, So.; Abigail Sears, Sr; Sarah Blaney, Jr.; Kathryn Robertson, Jr.; Meredith Gregg, Sr., Kaitlyn Duncan, Jr.; Darby Garner, Sr.; Terrian Jennings, Sr.; Elisa Lipton, Jr.; Helen Wingate, Jr.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Maddy Woolever, Fr.

Johnson’s outlook: “I think we’re going to be very competitive. Obviously, you want to defend what you’ve obtained. That’s what the goal is and we’ll see if they can rise to the occasion to do that.”

First match: Today at Harrisonburg

Handley

Coach: Martha Johnson, fifth year

Last year: 15-5, 8-0 Northwestern District

Key losses: Olivia Truban, Cat Truban, Caroline Skiles, Saloni Sabatino

Top returning players: Meredith Watts, Jr..; Josie Sydnor, Jr.; Lillian Smith, So.; Laurel Griffin, Sr.; Anna Griffin, Sr.; Emma Lantelme-Capitano, Jr.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Catherine Love, Jr., Meredith Larsen, Fr., Michaela Logan, Fr., Katherine McIntyre, So., Laurel Tucker, Fr.

Johnson’s outlook: “We just want to be competitive when it counts. If we get close matches, we want to close them out whether it’s at home or away. Clearly, Sherando beating us three times last year really hurts. We’re looking to improve on that.”

First match: Tuesday at Woodgrove

 

Millbrook

Coach: Dawnette Jones, fourth year

Last year: 12-5

Key losses: Annie Cebrzynski, Tiffany Javins Fender, Sarah Woolverton

Top returning players: Kyle Buza, Sr.; Shanna Marin-Pierce, Sr.; Abigail Taylor, Jr.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Cecilia Cress, Jr.; Christina Gutilla, Jr.; Silvia Asero, Fr.; Audrey Hoffman, Fr.; Zoe Ackerman, Jr.

Jones’ outlook: “I’m really interested to see how competitive we’re going to be. Last year we finished really well. I really think this team coming in can play as well as we did last year if not even better. I have high expectations. They are a really good group and very coachable. … I really enjoy watching them play doubles. They have a really aggressive game which is what I like.”

First match: Tuesday vs. Skyline

James Wood

Coach: Sharon Sweet, seventh year

Last year: 4-10

Key losses: None

Top returning players: Megan Hillyard, Sr.; Taylin Crosen, So.; Lily Kimble, So.; Morgan Burner, So.; Carlee Gosline, Sr.; Courtney Dyer, Sr.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Savannah Keller, Fr.

Sweet’s outlook: “They’re exited about the progress they’ve made as tennis players. They see the competition around them and appreciate that challenge. They also appreciate that there are so many local opponents where they will have competitive matches. They have to go out there and they have to fight. They like that. They want to earn that win.”

Next match: Friday at Clarke County

Clarke County

Coach: Ted Schulhof, 10th year

Last year: 0-14

Key losses: Trisha Vergara, Chloe Payton, Kayla Shaw, Olivia Rhodes.

Top returning players: Anne Herndon, So.; Aaliyah McFarland, So.; Maria Vinson, So.

Key newcomers (top six consideration): Barbara Fairbanks, Fr.; Katie Crandall, Fr.; Julia Callender, Fr.; Reagan Johnson, Fr.; Natalie Mikolajczak, So.; Anna Davidson, So.

Schulhof’s outlook: “My expectations are for us to improve as the season goes along, to continue to have a great time, to give max effort and to learn a lot. I’ve pretty much been telling them that we are on three- and four-year plans here.”

Next match: Monday at Jefferson, W.Va.

— Contact Walt Moody at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1

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