Gateway girls tennis showing improvement with returning lineup

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Sunday, September 5, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Kenny Nieser heads to the tennis courts at Gateway High School each time hoping to see improvement from his youthful girls team.

So far this season, he said, his players are getting a return on their investments.

“We have a good group of girls who have shown up and worked hard,” said Nieser, in his fourth year as head coach of the Gators.

“Hopefully, we can keep getting stronger as a team. They have a good attitude and a desire to be competitive.”

Nieser has a roster of 10 players to work with. Five of them returned from last year’s team. There is just one senior — team captain Lydia Nguyen.

Also back are juniors Sophia Hernandez, Amara Bristol and Gabrielle Opaska; and sophomore Abiha Syed.

The team bid farewell to graduates Sri Sapram, Laylo Tuktamuradova and Ruth Miller. Sapram was a team captain and the No. 1 singles player. Tukhtamuradova and Miller teamed up to represent the Gators at the section doubles tournament.

Nguyen, now in her second year as a starter, competed in the Section 1-AAA singles tournament last year and won her first match before facing eventual section champion Jenna Bell from Latrobe, who won the match 10-0.

Bell went on to place third at WPIALs.

“That was a good learning experience for her,” Nieser said.

Nguyen also played in the section doubles tournament with Hernandez, and the duo suffered a tough first-round loss to a team from Armstrong.

Sophomore Iris Xia and freshman Salma Mukhtar are new players to the team who Nieser hopes can continue to build on prior tennis experience.

“Both have shown good athletic ability and skills on the court,” he said.

Xia and Hernandez are expected to alternate at No. 1 singles throughout the season.

As a team, Gateway went winless in section matches in 2020. Nieser said there were a couple of close matches, but his team just wasn’t able to get over the hump.

Gateway kicked off play this season by defeating Penn Hills in an exhibition matchup Aug. 25.

The Gators then began Section 1-AAA matches Aug. 30 at home against section power Norwin, and the Knights prevailed 5-0.

“The great thing about this group is that they always want to work to get better,” Nieser said.

“That showed against Norwin. We lost 5-0, but we won a lot more points against them than we did last year.”

Nieser said he wants to have a number of his players face competition in both singles and doubles matches to get a more well-rounded playing experience.

Gateway was slated to face Hempfield in Section 1 action last Thursday.

The Gators host matches this week against defending section champion Latrobe and Penn-Trafford. They also will face Armstrong, Connellsville, Franklin Regional and Kiski Area in section play.

In addition to the section matches, several Gateway players will test their mettle at the section singles (Sept. 15-16) and doubles (Sept 29-30) tournaments with the opportunity to qualify for WPIALs on the line.

“We are working each day to see how things will fall into place,” Nieser said. “We are seeing progress, and that’s always a good thing.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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