Freshman players help Sewickley Academy tennis excel

Monday, October 2, 2017 | 5:51 PM

The Sewickley Academy girls tennis team (13-4) is making a playoff run with its youngest team in a quarter century.

The Panthers, who went undefeated in Section 4-AA, shut out Derry and Indiana in the first two rounds of the WPIAL Class AA championship tournament. They were set to meet Greensburg Central Catholic in the semifinals Monday, with the winner taking on Neshannock or Knoch in the final Wednesday.

Six Sewickley Academy players are freshmen — the most the squad has had since Panthers coach Whitney Snyder took the helm in 1992, he said.

Evelyn Safar, Simran Bedi and Christina Walton start in singles and Victoria Keller in doubles, with Aleena Purewal and Emma DeSantis in reserve.

Senior Lydia Elste, junior Alina Mattson and senior Olivia McLeod are starting doubles players.

Snyder is impressed by the leadership of Mattson and Elste, the team captains.

Mattson said with so many newcomers, she knew she and Elste had to be role models.

Safar said it has worked.

“I'm never afraid to turn to the upperclassmen for help,” she said.

Elste said she tries to lighten the mood before a big match.

“I remind them they have worked for this, and we are all there (for) each other,” she said.

Bedi said the Panthers bonded, and she could not ask for a better team.

The Panthers last won the WPIAL crown in 2014. They have been WPIAL champions four times since 2008.

Quaker Valley (10-5) was headed to a showdown with Sewickley Academy before bowing to Greensburg Central Catholic, 5-0, in the quarterfinals.

The Quakers, the third-place team in Section 2-AA, upset Ellis, 3-2, in the first round.

“We pretty much maxed out,” Quakers coach Christi Hays said.

Junior Sydney Schultz, senior Chloe Becotte-McMullen and junior Anna McSweeney played singles for the Quakers, and senior Olivia Albert and juniors Martha Pangburn, Meme Malcolm and Abby McGinley doubles.

Freshman Emily Sanders and junior Abby Sanders, who came back from a leg injury, provided backup.

Albert was proud how far the team came.

“I don't think any of us expected to get this far,” she said.

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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