BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — Anthony Wayne’s girls tennis team returns five of its seven starters off last year’s second-place squad.
“I was left in very good shape,” said former Cincin-nati Bearcat player and first-year Generals coach Jim Sutto. “I’ve got a very deep team with a good mix of seniors, juniors, sophomores and even a freshman that will make varsity.”
Although AW did graduate a pair of All-Northern Lakes League selections in first singles player Rachelle Moses and first doubles player Lauren Parlette, it still returns the players who filled the remaining slots.
Leading this experienced group will be 2017’s second and third singles players in senior Kailyn Szmania and junior Elizabeth Seiple.
The dynamic duo is expected to battle for the top two singles positions in 2018.
“What I love about Kailyn is she’s one of the most consistent players I’ve seen in a while,” Sutto said. “She’s going to be one of those girls that opponents just don’t want to play because of how she keeps the ball in play. She can pass when she needs to pass. She can run just about anything down. She will frustrate opponents.
“Elizabeth has been very committed in the offseason. She probably schedules more tournaments and lessons than most kids on my team. I have very high expectations for her. I think she’s going to have a great year.”
A third-team NLL selection last year, sophomore Ashley Hartzell will likely return to her first doubles position by preference this season.
“Ashley is another kid that loves to play the tournaments and get better in the offseason,” Sutto said. “She’s a very hard worker. I’m guessing she likes doubles more than she likes singles, so my guess is that she’ll end up at first doubles, but that’s still to be determined.”
Grace Skilliter earned honorable mention from the district in 2017 and could slot in at third singles this year as a junior.
“Grace is a very strong girl that can do just about anything on the court,” Sutto said. “She can overpower opponents. She can play consistently if she needs to play consistently. She’s got a good, strong serve. She’ll be a challenge for anyone at third singles if that’s where she chooses to go.”
Senior Juliana Gulia and junior Kelsey Verhoff are two more varsity returners from last year.
Gulia could slate in at either second doubles or third singles and Verhoff might complete the Generals’ first doubles duo.
“Challenge matches await to determine Juliana’s final position and Kelsey is a nice player that has worked hard in the offseason,” Sutto said.
A varsity newcomer, junior Kassidy Pittman may well complete Anthony Wayne’s varsity lineup with a starting doubles spot.
“Kassidy has been doing very well this past month,” Sutto said.
Other newcomers who seem poised to crack the varsity lineup include seniors Faith Briars and Alex Burzszwski and freshman Jordan Foukes.
“Faith and Kailyn (Szmania) are going to be my captains,” Sutto said. “(Faith) is a great little athlete that likes to run all over the court and Alex will compete for some doubles action.
“Jordan was kind of a nice surprise. I don’t think she knows how good she is.”
The Generals program has a total of 33 girls trying out this year. Sutto hopes to keep 12 on the varsity team and another 12-15 on the junior varsity squad.
“I was blessed with a lot of kids with interest in tennis,” Sutto said. “We’ve got plenty of kids. The challenge for me is finding enough match time for all of them.”
Former AW tennis player Hayley Aller, who was a member of the last Generals NLL championship team, will assist Sutto in 2018.
“She will be a tremendous help,” Sutto said.
Not surprisingly, Sutto singled out defending league champion Perrysburg as Anthony Wayne’s biggest competition this year.
“I don’t know that we necessarily have a goal where we need to finish in first, second or third place,” he said. “My goal is to win close matches. I want the three-set matches to go in our favor. I want to see girls advance to districts with the hope of getting to state.
“So far, these girls have me very excited for the upcoming season. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think they are going to make a lot of good memories and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Generals will open the season at the Springfield Doubles Invitational on Saturday, August 4 at 9:00 a.m.