S. Heart eyes National crown; Chiefs, Colts look to improve

S. Heart eyes National crown; Chiefs, Colts look to improve

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S. Heart eyes National crown; Chiefs, Colts look to improve

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Here’s a closer look at the high school girls’ tennis teams in Greater Cumberland County:

Vineland

Coach: Harry Silverstein (30th season)

Conference: Cape-Atlantic League American Conference

Group: IV South

Last year: 18-8, lost in Group IV South quarterfinals

Returning starters: 4

Key returners: Neeraja Thakur (Soph., No. 2), Brianna Ciancaglini (Sr., No. 3 singles).

Top newcomers: Sejal Menghani (Fr., No. 1 singles).

Outlook: The Fighting Clan have a brand new look this season.

Vineland lost its top three players to graduation — Blake Pescatore, Sarah Jannarone and Amanda Jamieson — a trio that combined to go 73-20-1 during the year.

Menghani, a freshman, will take the Court 1 reins from Pescatore, who graduated as the program’s all-time singles wins leader with 89. While talented, Menghani will likely need time to get her feet wet.

Thakur and Ciancaglini have varsity experience, but moving up from doubles to singles isn’t easy. Thakur has unorthodox strokes, which could cause some of her opponents problems.

Senior Andrea Ferrari and sophomore Nandini Patel will play first doubles. The duo has looked good during the preseason, and should be one of the strong points of the team. Senior Nadia Sotnychuk and sophomore Gina Irizarry are slated to play second doubles.

Vineland opens up with 10 straight road games as their brand new tennis courts are scheduled to be completed on Sept. 28, according to athletic director Don Robbins. Their first home match will be a tough one though, as perennial power Mainland comes to town on Oct. 1.

Prediction: The Fighting Clan had a combined 38 wins the past two seasons, but expect a major step back this year. If Vineland can hit the .500 mark, this season will be a success.

Millville

Coach: Tom DeCou (6th season, 114-24)

Conference: CAL American

Group: IV South

Last year: 22-7, lost in Group IV South final

Returning starters: 2

Key returners: Erin Chard (Sr., No. 1 singles), Noelle Brecht (Sr., No. 2 singles).

Top newcomers: Harmony Brecht (Soph., No. 3 singles), Danielle Orlov (Soph., No. 1 doubles), Sarah Banker (Jr., No. 1 doubles).

Outlook: The Thunderbolts had one of the most impressive and stunning seasons in program history last season, advancing all the way to the Group IV South championship game. However, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to repeat the feat.

Millville brings back just two players from the 2011 squad. Chard, who had an impressive first varsity season last year — going 22-10 at third singles — takes over the No. 1 spot. Noelle Brecht, the other returner, jumps from second doubles to second singles.

The No. 3 spot will be manned by Noelle’s sister Harmony, a youngster with some nice upside.

The doubles teams are inexperienced, and need some time to grow. Orlov and Banker will be the No. 1 tandem while sophomore Rosalena Ficagglia and senior Ashley Cross will play No. 2.

DeCou sees a bright future for his team, and he hopes the foundation for that success is built this year.

Prediction: If Millville plays above .500 in the tough CAL American and makes the postseason, 2012 will be a success.

Buena

Coach: Scott Sieminski (7th season, 81-52)

Conference: CAL National

Group: II South

Last year: 11-9, lost in Group II South semifinals

Returning starters: 3

Key returners: Jessie Houston (Sr., No. 1 singles), Kate Albertson (Sr., No. 2 singles), Ana Nicolo (Sr., No. 1 doubles).

Top newcomers: Deanna Brown (Sr., No. 3 singles), Julie DeLizza (Jr. No. 1 doubles).

Outlook: The Chiefs advanced to the Group II South semis last season, and Sieminski believes this year’s squad compares favorably to that team.

Houston returns to the No. 1 spot. She had some growing pains last season, but with a season’s experience under her belt, she should be better prepared for the pressure-packed spot.

Albertson played second doubles in 2011, but will play second singles this year. Sieminski describes her, and Brown, the team’s No. 3 singles player, as hustlers. Expect them both to play long points.

Sieminski is excited about his first doubles tandem of Nicolo and DeLizza. Nicolo has shown a lot of improvement this offseason and DeLizza is very athletic. Buena’s second doubles tandem is slated to be senior Roshni Patel and junior Gina Gorrell.

Prediction: The Chiefs should improve by a couple wins this season, and depending where Haddonfield falls in the playoff bracket, could make a nice postseason run.

Sacred Heart

Coach: Krystee Mosley (4th season, 53-17)

Conference: CAL National

Group: Non-Public B South

Last year: 19-4, lost in Non-Public B South semifinals

Returning starters: 6

Key returners: Amanda Goff (Soph., No. 1 singles), Patrice Basada (Sr., No. 2 singles), Abby Bencie (Sr., No. 3 singles).

Top newcomers: Samantha Caterina (Sr., doubles), Danielle Lugo (Jr., doubles).

Outlook: The Lions believe this is finally their year to get over the hump.

Sacred Heart has made the sectional semifinals each of Mosley’s first three seasons, but have fallen one win short of reaching the championship game.

With six returners back, there’s a good chance the Lions can finally reach their goal.

Goff will play first singles. The sophomore had an impressive freshman campaign, going 21-4 at No. 2. Playing on Court 1 will provide a tougher challenge, but Mosley said Goff has showed an improved mental game this offseason.

Basada jumps up from first doubles to second singles, and has used her athleticism to adapt to the spot. Bencie returns at No. 3, and her experience at the position will prove beneficial.

Senior Katie O’Rourke and junior Lauren Cavallo will play first doubles. The two teamed together at second doubles last year and went 15-4, the best mark in the area. Some combination of sophomore Kelly Hullihen, Caterina and Lugo will play No. 2.

Prediction: Sacred Heart should definitely make the sectional semis again, and with its experience, should challenge for its first finals berth since 2008.

Cumberland

Coach: Jim Breech (2nd season, 10-8)

Conference: Tri-County Conference Royal Division

Group: III South

Last year: 10-8, lost in Group III South first round

Returning starters: 4

Key returners: Shannon Maloney (Sr., No. 2 singles), Zoe Taylor (Jr., No. 3 singles), Karen Johnson (Sr., No. 1 doubles), Bianca Birney (Jr., No. 1 doubles).

Top newcomers: Megan Maloney (Fr., No. 1 singles).

Outlook: Last season, the Colts anticipated two Maloneys leading their team. Unfortunately, the now-graduated Mary Kate battled a back injury throughout the year, which prevented the squad from fielding its ideal lineup.

But this year, Cumberland will get that opportunity again.

Freshman Megan Maloney had an impressive preseason and earned the No. 1 spot. Her older sister Shannon, who played both No. 1 and 2 last year, will slide back into the second singles hole to give the Colts a formidable 1-2 punch.

Zoe Taylor won 10 matches between second and third singles last year, and will start this season in the No. 3 hole.

Johnson and Birney, who went 10-5 at second doubles in 2011, will play first doubles this season. Second doubles will feature a young tandem of junior Melanie Mayhew and freshman Shaelyn Halter.

Prediction: Cumberland has a nice mix of experience and youth, and should be able to improve on last year’s 10-8 mark and advance past the opening round of the playoffs.

Delsea

Coach: Laura Abbie Jones (1st season, 0-0)

Conference: TCC Royal

Group: III South

Last year: 6-9, missed playoffs

Returning starters: 2

Key returners: Julia Ruczynski (Soph., No. 1 singles), Jordan Casey (Sr., No. 2 singles).

Top newcomers: Amanda Ellen (Jr., No. 3 singles).

Outlook: Jones takes over for Lakishia Powell, who stepped away from coaching after 12 years at the helm. Jones was Powell’s assistant for two seasons and has a familiarity with the team.

Delsea had a rough go of it last year, and are still trying to build the program back up. Ruczynski moves up one spot from second singles to first singles, and has shown the ability to stay there. If she stays out of her own head, she could make some real progress.

Casey spent some time at second doubles last year, and will make a big leap to No. 2 singles. Ellen would’ve played varsity last season, but a broken leg kept her out of action. She’ll be a nice addition to the singles lineup.

At doubles are four varisty newcomers. Senior Erika Enley and junior Brooke Asroff are in the top spot while senior Samantha Hitzelberger and freshman Sydney Casey are at No. 2.

Prediction: The Crusaders’ singles lineup will be the strength of this squad. Matching last year’s record would be a good accomplishment.

Schalick

Coach: John Romano (3rd season, 13-21)

Conference: TCC Classic

Group: I South

Last year: 9-9, lost in Group I South quarterfinals

Returning starters: 6

Key returners: Kylee Barton (Jr., No. 1 singles), Grace Carpenter (Soph., No. 2 singles), Alexis Penn (Sr., No. 3 singles).

Top newcomers: Erin Jacob (Soph., No. 2 doubles), Heidi Harbs (Soph., No. 2 doubles).

Outlook: The Cougars made a five-win improvement last year, thanks largely to the return of their entire varsity lineup.

Schalick has a similar feel to it this season, as six players come back from last season’s squad.

The Cougars lost No. 1 Caroline Kavanagh, but Romano is confident in Barton and Carpenter to fill the void at the top. Barton played No. 2 last year, and Carpenter is right with her talent wise. Penn moves up a spot from first doubles to third singles.

Romano is very excited about his top doubles tandem of senior Mariah Soyring and junior Tori Kasprzak. The two have been rock solid in scrimmages and they figure to be the backbone of this year’s team. Sophomores Jacob and Harbs will start the season at No. 2 doubles, but don’t be surprised if senior Georgia Maitland and sophomore Cassey Fox also get some playing time.

Prediction: Schalick won’t likely make a five-win improvement this season, but climbing above .500 is a realistic possibility.

OLMA

Coach: Sam Miles (6th season, 43-51)

Conference: CAL National

Group: Non-Public B South

Last year: 14-6, lost in Non-Public B South quarterfinals

Returning starters: 4

Key returners: Bridget Dandrea (Sr., No. 1 singles), Claire Stimson (Jr., No. 2 singles), Tina DiCicco (Sr., No. 3 singles).

Top newcomers: Winter Bruggeworth (Fr., No. 1 doubles).

Outlook: The Villagers matched their program-best record last season, going 14-6 — the same record they hit in 2010 — and are primed to repeat that success.

Dandrea will play her fourth straight season on Court 1. She’s gone 46-18 over her first three seasons, which included an impressive 18-5 mark last year — the second best among area No. 1s. She’s improved her record every season and there’s no reason to think she can’t do it again.

Stimson and DiCicco played first doubles last year, but will both step into singles roles this season. Coach Miles was very complementary of Stimson’s improvement this preseason, and DiCicco is a prototypical No. 3, she’ll get balls back and keep them in play.

While singles is the team’s strength, don’t overlook OLMA’s first doubles tandem of senior Giana Vozzi and Bruggeworth. The two could make for a potent duo.

Second doubles is slated to be sophomore Katie McLaughlin and freshman Devan Sorantino.

Prediction: The Villagers have had identical seasons the last two years, going 14-6 in each campaign and reaching the sectional quarterfinals. OLMA should be shooting to improve in both areas in 2012.

Bridgeton

Coach: Aaron Pope (3rd season, 8-32)

Conference: CAL National

Group: II South

Last year: 1-19, missed playoffs

Returning starters: 6

Key returners: Denise Juarez (Sr. No. 1 singles), Ruby Nava (Jr. No. 2 singles), Andrea Mendez (Jr. No. 3 singles).

Top newcomers: Tanija Johnson (Jr.).

Outlook: The Bulldogs had a rough season last year, but gained valuable experience.

Six players return from the 2011 squad, and Juarez, Nava, Mendez and Shakia Singleton all played singles at least once last year. Tyrusha Wallop and Maria Cruz played doubles last season, and Johnson played varsity back in 2010.

Singleton and Johnson are slated to play first doubles while Wallop and Anna Perez will team up at No. 2.

While last year was tough, Pope is aiming high. He believes his squad is capable of winning 10 matches.

Prediction: The Bulldogs might not be a double-digit victory team, but they certainly are better than the one-win squad they were a year ago.

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