Knoch girls tennis team seeking 1st WPIAL team title

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Sunday, October 11, 2020 | 5:04 PM


After three straight WPIAL Class AA runner-up finishes, the Knoch girls tennis team hopes to break through and claim the program’s first team title.

The Section 3 champion Knights, the No. 1 seed in the Class AA bracket, have a first-round bye and will begin play in the quarterfinals at 3 p.m. Wednesday with a home match against Section 3 rival North Catholic or Central Valley from Section 4.

“Given all the pressure the girls have been under all season, they are ready,” Knoch coach Nancy Conlon said. “We’ve had some really tough and tight matches that I think prepared them mentally and physically to be able to execute when it’s most necessary. We’re definitely happy to be the No. 1 seed and have the bye.”

Sewickley Academy, which defeated Knoch in the finals each of the past three years, is the No. 2 seed. The Panthers are seeking their eighth WPIAL title in program history.

The Knights, led by four-time WPIAL singles champion Laura Greb, finished section play undefeated. They are 11-0 overall with nonsection victories against Class AAA playoff qualifiers North Allegheny, Fox Chapel and Mars, as well as Butler and Seneca Valley.

Greb is 16-1 overall with her only loss coming to Teddi Isherwood from Butler. Senior Brooke Bauer (No. 2 singles) is 17-0 overall. She teamed with sister, Ally, a sophomore, to capture the WPIAL doubles title last Thursday.

All first-round matches in Class AA are at 3 p.m. Monday, with all first-round matches in Class AAA set for 3 p.m. Tuesday. Both championship matches are set for Oct. 21 at a site to be determined.

Under normal circumstances, the top three WPIAL finishers in Class AA and AAA qualify for the state team tournament. But because of covid-19 safety measures and logistics, the PIAA this year has limited the entries for states to WPIAL champions only.

Section 1 champion Mt. Pleasant, led by WPIAL singles and doubles qualifier Mary Smithnosky, a senior, will host Indiana on Monday.

Valley, whose only loss in section play came to Mt. Pleasant, will host Montour. It is led by junior WPIAL singles and doubles qualifier Eden Richey (10-1 in dual matches).

Valley and Mt. Pleasant advanced to the quarterfinals last year.

“With the compacted schedule and only three teams per section earning entry into the WPIAL Class AA team tournament, the level of play (at WPIALs) will absolutely be intense on all playoff courts, and we realize that fact and embrace the challenge,” Valley coach Rachael Link said.

“Montour has an excellent program, and they battled out of a competitive section. Having to face them in the first round is absolutely a tough draw for us. But that’s just fine. It’s the playoffs, and the best of the best get to battle.”

Burrell, which lost only to Valley and Mt. Pleasant in section matches and finished the regular season 10-2 overall, is in the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2017. The Bucs open tournament play at six-time WPIAL champion Quaker Valley.

The top four teams from each of the four Class AAA sections punched tickets to the WPIAL tournament.

For the fourth year in a row, Fox Chapel, last year’s WPIAL runner-up, will face Mars in the opening round. The Foxes won in 2017 and last year, and the Planets prevailed in 2018.

Fox Chapel, which last won a WPIAL title in 2004, finished Section 3-AAA play 7-1 with its only loss coming to section champ Shady Side Academy.

“The familiarity with Mars gives the girls a sense of comfort,” Fox Chapel coach Laura Ward said.

“They are really excited for what they can do in the WPIAL tournament. They are confident they can make another nice run.”

Junior Carissa Shepard, a WPIAL singles quarterfinalist, went 7-0 in section play and is 7-3 overall.

Franklin Regional, Latrobe, Hempfield and Norwin came out of a competitive Section 1 race and will challenge in matches starting Tuesday.

Franklin Regional and Latrobe will host first-round contests. The Panthers, led by senior Hannah Yan, a WPIAL singles and doubles qualifier, takes on North Allegheny.

Latrobe, fronted by the 1-2 punch of WPIAL singles and doubles qualifiers Addison Kemerer, a senior, and Jenna Bell, a junior, matches up against West Allegheny. The Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals last year.

Hempfield, paced by WPIAL singles and doubles qualifier Alexis Smith, a junior, travels to Upper St. Clair, while Norwin has a first-round matchup at Shady Side Academy.

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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