Franklin Regional tennis aims to contend for Section 1 title

Monday, September 4, 2017 | 11:00 PM

The Franklin Regional girls tennis team lost nine graduates from last year's team, but it's familiar territory for coach Howard Fisher to have to replace a large number of players.

The key to sustaining success for Franklin Regional has been having players ready to step in. The Panthers will have plenty options again this year as they try to make another run at a playoff berth and possibly a section title.

The Panthers are off to a good start in Section 1-AAA, scoring three wins — 5-0 over Kiski Area and 3-2 over defending section champion Hempfield and Greensburg Salem.

Franklin Regional has 11 girls on its roster. Fisher said they are experimenting with the lineup in early-season matches, and that all 11 will contribute at some point during the season.

Freshman Hannah Yan has settled in to the top singles spot, Anisha Mandava, a senior, is playing No. 2 singles and sophomore Ana Boyle slots in at No. 3 singles. Seniors Nikki Bonacci and Carly Litz are the No. 1 doubles team.

Senior Anjali Hattangady, juniors Caitlin Van Alen, Pratiti Mehta, Hannah Fierle and Megan Swift and sophomore Nandini Rastogi will all see time in either singles or doubles.

Mandava, Bonacci, Litz, Hattangady and Van Alen are returning letterwinners.

Fisher said it isn't common to see a freshman in the top singles spot, but Yan has handled herself well early in matches and has been a nice surprise. Yan won her match against Hempfield in two sets. She rallied in the second, winning six straight games for a 7-5 victory.

“We're very fortunate that early in her high school career to have her lead the team,” Fisher said. “I've had freshmen in the past lead the team, but it's a rarity. She's done very well for this stage in her high school career. It really helps our lineup.”

Mandava won the deciding match against Hempfield, which lasted more than three hours. After losing the first set 7-5, she rallied for a pair of 6-4 victories.

“Everybody was watching Anisha's match because it went to a third set,” Fisher said. “It was really a character-building moment for her. I told her afterwards it was the best match I had ever seen her play.”

Bonacci is a returning doubles player and Litz is a new partner for her, but the pair has won the matches they have played together. Fisher is relying on Bonacci's experience to help anchor the No. 1 doubles team.

“We always want to have a strong first doubles team,” Fisher said. “Nikki is a very good doubles player and has been for a couple years now. She's a sold No. 1 doubles player for us. Nikki and Carly have played well together so far, which is good since it's their first time playing together.”

Franklin Regional figures to be in the mix for the Section 1 crown, but Fisher thinks there will be several challengers for the section title, including Hempfield, Penn-Trafford, Norwin, Latrobe and Gateway.

He doesn't expect anybody to run away from the pack.

“I think there's a lot of parity in our section this year,” Fisher said. “I could see someone with one or two losses winning the section title. It's nice because from year to year the top four teams are pretty close talent wise. It makes for interesting matches because you never really know what the end result is going to be.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.


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