‘Little school in Saxonburg’ joins state tennis elite during Knoch’s memorable season

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020 | 6:01 PM


Of all the Class AA girls tennis teams in the state of Pennsylvania, only three played in this year’s PIAA team tournament and also had representatives in the state singles and doubles brackets.

Two of them were District 10 champion Villa Maria Academy and District 9 champion St. Marys.

The third was WPIAL champion Knoch.

It was a memorable season for the Knights players who came together to win WPIAL and PIAA championships for the first time.

“When you look at the level of competitiveness of all the teams out east and all the teams we play in the WPIAL, including a lot of the private schools, it’s just amazing that this small little school in Saxonburg has all this talent,” Knoch coach Nancy Conlon said.

“The girls didn’t let anything hold them back when they went out there. Each and every year, they’ve taken a next step in their accomplishments.”

Knoch suffered heartbreak to Sewickley Academy in the WPIAL finals three straight years before finally breaking through with a 3-2 victory over the Panthers in a nail-biting and heart-pounding final Oct. 22 at Shady Side Academy.

That progression also was seen in the team climbing the ladder in the PIAA tournament. The Knights, with seniors Laura Greb and Brooke Bauer as freshmen in the lineup, made it to the 2017 quarterfinals.

The next year, Knoch finished in the semifinals. Last year, it fell to Sewickley Academy in the finals.

The ghosts of past PIAA defeats didn’t haunt the Knights this year, and on Halloween, they finished off their run to gold. They won all 13 individual matches they played during three victories in the state tournament, including a 3-0 triumph over District 11 champion Moravian Academy in the finals to finish 17-0 on the season.

Then it was the quest for individual and doubles gold for Greb and the sister duo of Brooke Bauer and sophomore Ally Bauer. The WPIAL champions both returned from Hershey on Saturday with state medals.

Greb bounced back from a 6-2, 6-2 semifinal loss to eventual state champion Olivia Dorner, a junior from South Williamsport, to defeat Moravian Academy freshman Chessie Bartolacci, 6-0, 6-2, in the third-place match.

“We knew Olivia’s record and ranking, and we knew it was going to be a tough match,” Conlon said. “The final score didn’t reflect the level of play. Laura was in every game. Olivia was just the better player. But Laura was able to let the loss go and refocus really well for the third-place medal.”

The Bauer sisters went 2-1 at states and came within one win of the doubles title, but the Conrad Weiser combination of senior Alex Pancu and freshman Emma Perkins triumphed by a score of 6-4, 6-2.

“That was a tough match,” Conlon said. “Those girls were extremely talented. But Ally and Brooke forced them to raise their games.”

Greb, a University of Dayton commit, and Brooke Bauer graduate having never missed a match in four years.

Greb lost only one section match in her career and finished 24-2 this season and 107-11 overall with four WPIAL singles titles to her credit.

Bauer went undefeated in section play all four years, recorded a combined 25-1 record this season and finished 105-11 for her career. She delivered the match-clinching win at No. 2 singles in the WPIAL team finals.

“When they walked on the court, it just changed the whole trajectory of our team,” Conlon said. “They always played with determination, dedication and mental toughness. They were team players all the way. Their records speak for themselves.”

While Greb and Brooke Bauer were the more notable seniors in the lineup, fellow senior Tippy Barnes (0-4) got the chance to play in regular-season varsity matches at No. 2 doubles.

Ally Bauer, now a two-time WPIAL doubles champion, capped her sophomore season at 23-2. She will be the elder stateswomen next year as several freshmen populated the lineup for all or part of the season.

Emily Greb (26-4) was busy at WPIALs, competing in both the singles and doubles tournaments. She won WPIAL singles bronze.

Ava Santora went 18-3 overall and played No. 1 doubles in team matches with Ally Bauer.

Lindsey Greb battled through injury and recovery and finished her first season 5-1 at No. 2 doubles. Also in action as freshmen at No. 2 doubles were Jade Nether (9-7), Lara Ejzak (3-1) and Kenzie Gumto (0-1).

“I think there will be some competitive challenges ahead for those top two singles spots and then elsewhere in the lineup,” Conlon said. “We’re filling some pretty big shoes. We have a lot of nice, young depth. We have four freshmen and a sophomore with WPIAL and state medals around their necks. The future looks bright.”

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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