TENNIS PREVIEWS: Can Thorpe pull off an encore performance?
Jim Thorpe coach Norb Lienhard (left) gives last minute instructions to his team prior to a match. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
The 2019 tennis season opened this week and the three area programs all have questions to answer.
Can Jim Thorpe pull off an encore performance after producing the best season in school history a year ago?
Can Pleasant Valley improve on a .500 mark from a year ago and return to postseason play after a year’s absence?
Can Tamaqua overcome big losses from a year ago and show improvement as the season goes on?
VETERAN BENEFITS ... Norb Lienhard begins his 24th year as the mentor of the Jim Thorpe program. With assistant Brent Reabold in his third season helping out, look for their group of young ladies to attempt to improve on last year’s strong campaign.
FILLING THE VOID ... Gone from last year’s squad, that produced plenty of highlights including a 13-2 team mark, are graduated talents Leanne Van Essendelf (2018 TIMES NEWS Player of the Year) and Angelica Uzar (mainstay at No. 1 doubles). Lienhard needs replacements capable of maintaining that high level.
LEADING LADIES ... Returning to the program is a more-than-capable nucleus of experienced players. Thorpe will have three seniors — Kaitlyn O’Neil, who played No. 3 singles a year ago, along with doubles starters Evelyn Flores and Chloe Getz. They will also return four juniors.
MCLEAN CUISINE ... Junior Christy McLean and sister, freshman Tara, seem poised to spell the future for JT on the courts. Christy was strong for Lienhard a year ago at No. 2 singles, while Tara has equal potential to make some noise, as well.
HIGH HOPES ... When talking about goals, Lienhard references another visit to the District 11 team tennis tournament, as the ability is there to produce similar results from a year ago. Inter-squad competition is nearing new levels, which should spell trouble for other teams on the Olympians’ schedule.
LOOKING FOR IMPROVEMENT ... Head tennis coach Mark Allison takes this year’s Bears into the new season with hopes of improving on their 8-8 record from 2018. With plenty of returning players to the Bears’ lineup, Allison thinks that goal is highly attainable.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN ... With graduation, several key players have moved on to the next phase of their lives, as Alyssa Wagner, Kelli Reagan, Grace Vento and Cambry Galler all graduated in the spring.
GUESS WHO’S BACK ... Hoping to move into those empty spots are a crew of returning girls, who according to Allison, are ready to take the next step. Riley Wagner, Hope Hoppe, Rebecca Makredes, Julia Polak and Kara Thorout all come back to the Bears with a wealth of playing time a season ago.
POTENTIAL ... Julia DeYoung, Ehrin Frable and Shylah Healy will look to step into more active roles in the Bears’ success this season, as they’re entering the lineup for the first time.
LOOKING GOOD SO FAR ... Allison has liked the efforts in the preseason workouts and practices and is excited for the season. The hard work, willingness to learn and coachability of this group should spell certain success down the road, if not immediately for the locals.
YOUTH APLENTY ... Rich Gibson begins his third season at the helm for the Blue Raiders and has some rebuilding to do. Graduation seemed to hit the lineup hard and decimated the wealth of experience.
REGA RETURNING ... When looking at the capable players that can step up this season, senior Jocelyn Rega earns that nod from Gibson. The student-athlete held court at No. 1 doubles last year and should move into the top singles position nicely.
ROLE CALL ... Looking at the remainder of the Raiders’ lineup, Anjelika Bolletino and Nami Choi will probably take the remaining two singles spots, while the tandems of Sabrina Pratt and Annika Stahler and Leslie Antonio and Megan Oswald have maneuvered their way into the thick of things early on as far as the doubles lineup is concerned.
WHAT’S THE PLAN? ... Like most teams and coaches, Gibson and his troop of netters are hoping to gain experience early on in the season and improve quickly. With their young lineup, and the intense schedule, Gibson and his Raiders should be able to improve with each passing day.