Bears strong at the top of their lineup
Jim Thorpe’s Erik McLain-Walter gets ready to hit a forehand shot toward assistant coach Brent Reabold. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Lehighton head tennis coach Joe Zarelli talks to his team during a recent practice. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Palmerton’s Hunter Connell reaches to return a shot during a recent practice. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
The Pleasant Valley and Palmerton boys tennis teams both return their No. 1 singles players this season.
The Bears are especially strong at the top of their lineup, returning 2018 Times News Tennis Player of the Year Josh Schaffner at the top of the lineup and 2017 Times News Tennis Player of the Year Jake Ammermann at No. 2 singles.
For the Bombers, Nate Andress returns at the top of the lineup.
TAKE A HIT … Veteran Olympians’ coach Norb Lienhard takes a hit to his lineup card as four players — John Fedora (No. 1 singles), Matt Widdicombe (No. 1 doubles), Ethan Melber (doubles) and Damola Taiwo (doubles) — were lost to graduation.
THEY’RE BAAAACK … Seniors Emilio Mercado (No. 2 singles), Erik McLain-Walter (No. 2 doubles) and Robert Renode (doubles); juniors Raymond O’Neil (No. 3 singles) and Nolan Rehrig (No. 2 doubles); and sophomores Jason Chiulli (doubles), Connor Rodgers (No. 1 doubles) and Daniel Teets (doubles) all return to the team. “We do have experience coming back,” Lienhard said. “It’s just they’re going to be playing in new spots. So, that’s going to be the key if they can make that step to move up the ladder.”
GOT AN ITCH … The Olympians have stayed dedicated to the sport throughout the winter, having sessions with Leinhard to get ready for the season. However, the Olympians have been stuck indoors most of the preseason. “We just can’t wait until we get outside. They’re ready to go. I’ve been hitting with them during the winter. A lot of them came during the winter a couple of days during the week. So, they’re excited to play.”
EYE ON THE BALL — AND ON GOALS … “The players always give me individual goals for themselves,” said Lienhard, who is in his 26th season with the Olympians. “Then we set some team goals. This year, from a skills standpoint, we’re trying to work on being more consistent with the ground strokes. From a results standpoint, our ultimate goal is to make team districts.”
EXPERIENCE RETURNS … Seniors Olivia Frendt, Miranda Petit and Mark Solt return with plenty of experience under their belts. So much so, that Indians’ head coach Joe Zarelli is looking at their experience and leadership as his team’s main strength this season.
GRADUATION LOSSES ... While Lehighton has a good core of returnees, it will have to replace the talent of No. 1 singles player Maura Phelan, and starter Gavin Cressly.
PRACTICE AGENDA … The Indians have spent the last week working on fundamentals, cardio and team-building skills. “I want the players to get to know each other so that regardless of level of skill or experience, all players feel they are in a comfortable environment where they are not only learning the sport but building relationships,” Zarelli said.
ONLY WAY IS UP … The Indians only mustered two wins and suffered 11 losses in 13 matches a year ago in Zarelli’s initial season at the helm. He is hoping to see that win total increase this season. “For me, high school tennis was about competing, making memories, and building friendships,” Zarelli said. “But my goal this year is to challenge my experienced players to get out of their comfort zones and play more aggressively on the court.”
COMPETING FOR PLAYING TIME … In addition to veteran players Frendt, Petit and Solt, the Indians roster also includes seniors Jordan Cook and Joshua Gandy; juniors Abigail Hoppes, Alison Miller and Natasha Sitarchyk; sophomores Madison Becksted, Mckenna Geary, Hailey Hoffman and Kira Hregician; and freshmen Anya Shorten, Benjamin Slaw and Myla Steinberg.
TOP SPOT RETURNS … The Blue Bombers’ No. 1 singles’ player Nate Andress is back for his final hurrah with the school’s tennis program. Head coach Jen Danzeisen has high hopes for Andress. “I would like to see Nate have the best record of his career as a senior,” Danzeisen said. “I also want to see him have some success at districts.”
SHOES TO FILL … Matthis Wilhuhn, who was a German exchange student, and Marc Roselli have graduated, leaving No. 2 and No. 3 singles spots open. In addition, the departures of Taylor Hirochek, Jon Hillanbrand and Kory Kratzer have left a hole in doubles’ play. Veterans Erica Messics and Haley Hatzis add some comfort for Danzeisen as she tries to fill those holes.
FRESH START … Danzeisen has plenty of new additions to her Bombers’ tennis roster this season. Among those competing for playing time will be senior Lucas Christman, junior Tim Hillanbrand, sophomores Hunter Connell, Lauren Rehrig and Brayden Kline and freshmen Maddy Mahler, Hannah O’Neil and Kierra Pfaff. “We are a brand-new team and more than half of them have never played tennis before,” Danzeisen said. “So, my goal is to get them to learn the game and improve their skills.”
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME …. Last year, the Bombers’ third-year coach saw her team finish with a 10-9 overall record (5-8 in Colonial League play). The Bombers qualified for team districts, dropping their quarterfinal round match. “As always, I am building a team and getting the kids to love this game,” said Danzeisen. “By the end of April, I hope that they will be better players and we will be a better team.”
VETERAN LEADERSHIP … Mark Allison has been around Pleasant Valley tennis for close to three decades. Allison is entering his 29th season with the Bears.
HOLDING SERVE … The Bears are in pretty good shape at the top of their lineup as Josh Schaffner returns to take the No. 1 singles spot, while Jake Ammermann is right back at No. 2. A pair of three-year veterans in the Bears’ singles-lineup, Schaffner and Ammermann will be joined this season by John Berry. Berry moves up from the doubles lineup to grab the No. 3 singles spot. He fills the void left behind by Najja Francis, who has graduated last year.
NEW FACES … Seniors Mike Tauer and Evan Thomas has stepped into the No. 2 doubles position for coach Allison this season. They take over for Brian Kegel and Jason Allesch, who have graduated. The inexperience may be a concern for Allison right now, however he knows the inexperience will get better in time. “I think they actually have improved from one match to the next,” said Allison, whose Bears have two matches in already (sitting 1-1 overall). “I have seen improvement in them, which is really positive.”
NEXT MEN IN … Nathan Vo, who will play No. 3 doubles, returns for another season. Twin brothers Ben and Caleb Jacoby, as well as Kyle Dela Cruz, are ready to step in for the Bears as well.
MORE SUCCESS? … Pleasant Valley posted an impressive 13-5 overall mark a year ago. When asked if the Bears could meet or exceed that record this season, Allison said numbers aren’t his primary focus. “I never do wins and losses,” Allison said. “I never predict or set a certain number of wins as a goal. Our goal is to continue to improve, make a challenge in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, and to do well in districts. Those are our goals.”