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Bears’ doubles teams reach second round before falling

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    Pleasant Valley’s Grace Vento returns a shot at Tuesday’s District 11 doubles competition. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app for a photo gallery. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS

Published October 17. 2018 03:41PM

BETHLEHEM – Mark Allison entered the season with an eye toward the future.

With several key pieces – including his top two singles players from last fall – lost to graduation, the Pleasant Valley head coach approached 2018 as somewhat of a rebuilding year.

But Allison’s Bears surprised, turning an overhaul into opportunity.

After watching Masani Francis and Haley White make a run to the quarterfinals of the District 11 Class 3A doubles tournament as an unseeded pair a season ago, Allison looked on as two of his teams nearly did the same on Tuesday.

Juniors Alyssa Wagner and Riley Wagner, along with Grace Vento and Aemelia Baker, all made it to the second round of the event Tuesday at Lehigh University’s Ulrich Tennis Courts before falling to seeded opponents.

“It’s big to get two teams to the round of 16,” said Allison. “It’s nice, real nice, for our program.

“And three of the four girls are underclassmen, so they’re coming back, and it’s nice experience for them.”

Alyssa and Riley Wagner fell 6-1, 6-1 to the sixth-seeded team of Kaitlin Grogg and Hiu Ying Kwok in the second round, while Baker and Vento were dispatched 6-3, 6-0 by Southern Lehigh’s Michelle Li and Kayla Lebby, the No. 5 seed.

“I thought they played pretty well, I did,” said Allison. “We practiced some doubles here this week, this past week, so I thought they were ready. I thought they were prepared and ready to go.”

The Wagner sisters moved into the second round with a 6-4, 6-3 win over East Stroudsburg South’s Maddison Malsch and Kaitlyn Semon in their opening match.

“It was pretty big (to get a first- round win), because this is our first year playing No. 1 doubles, so winning felt really good,” said Riley.

“It felt really good. Even though we beat them before, we knew we couldn’t look past them, and had to give it all we got,” stated Alyssa.

Both played with a chip on their shoulder, motivated by the success of Francis and White a year ago.

“We kind of want to follow in their footsteps, and uphold their reputation,” said Riley.

“They were really good players, so we want to be just like them,” added Alyssa, the Bears’ No. 1 singles player this season.

Vento and Baker didn’t have much time playing together prior to the start of the year, but the two bonded quickly. That chemistry was evident in a 6-1, 6-2 first round win over Pocono Mountain West’s Adrianna Carrion and Jen Celi.

“It means a lot to us, because this is our first year playing together as partners, and I feel like we really connected,” said Vento. “We worked really hard, and had to play a tough Southern Lehigh team (in the second round), which is amazing.

“I think we did a really good job communicating, and just giving it our all, and not letting our guard down. We were nervous, but we just thought if we keep our heads in the game, that we could push through it.”

“Grace and I are really close friends, and I feel like we communicate on the court really well,” said Baker. “We can read each other pretty well.”

That continuity is something Allison will be looking to build on next season.

“It was a good year. I was pleased,” said the coach. “We lost some good players, and it was a rebuilding year, kind of, for us, in both singles and doubles. And we ended up 8-8, and No. 8 in the district. I was really pleased with that.

“I think we did a little better than I thought we would. I give that credit to the girls. They worked hard, and really responded well. Hopefully, they’ll work hard in the offseason now … and we’ll come back a stronger team next year.”

NEXT … The quarterfinals and semifinals will be held today starting at 1:30 p.m. at Saucon Valley High School. The finals are scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. at Lehigh.

STATUS QUO … All eight seeded teams in the Class 3A tournament advanced to the quarterfinals.

BOUNCED … Only one seeded team in Class 2A got knocked out on the first day of the tournament. Bethlehem Catholic’s Cecile Szollus and Kaitlyn Hartman eliminated No. 6 seed Julia Hernandez and Megan Gatchel of Saucon Valley 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) in the second round.

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