Mt. Pleasant tennis standouts double up as softball stars

Sunday, October 18, 2020 | 4:04 PM

They are used to singles and doubles … and triples and home runs.

But we’re talking tennis here, not softball.

Mt. Pleasant has found success in both sports, and many of the same names have made that happen.

In a unique case, the Vikings had three Division I softball players make key contributions to a section championship-winning team.

Senior Mary Smithnosky played No. 1 singles, and senior Haylie Brunson and junior Katie Hutter teamed up at No. 2 doubles for the Vikings, who finished 11-1 this fall after reaching the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals.

Visiting South Park defeated Mt. Pleasant, 4-1, on Wednesday.

Mt. Pleasant won its first section title since 2011, and Smithnosky won the section singles title and also paired with senior Hannah Brown to take the section doubles title.

Smithnosky has played tennis for four years, but she is a Western Michigan softball recruit. A first-team all-state outfielder, she has made a habit out of hitting yellow balls with proficiency.

“I have been playing both from a young age,” Smithnosky said. “Eventually softball took over. We all practice together in the fall. We knew some of the girls could be decent because they were so athletic and had the swing down.”

Smithnosky and tennis coach Allison Leonard recruited the other girls, and Brunson and Hutter followed the bread crumbs to a sport they have come to enjoy.

Brunson is a Pitt commit, and Hutter will play at Akron.

“It’s great to be able to coach such great athletes,” said Leonard, the former Allison Homulka, who played softball and golf at Mt. Pleasant and graduated in 2007. She later coached softball with Lauren Shaheen.

“They push each other every day,” Leonard said. “I didn’t expect us to go undefeated (in the regular season), but getting back to the postseason was a big goal of ours. I think there was a lot of pent-up anger when they couldn’t play the spring (softball) season.”

Covid-19 concerns forced the PIAA to cancel spring sports in 2020.

Hutter, a quick second baseman with power, said she knew from the moment she hit a tennis ball with a racket she would enjoy the game.

“Haylie came out (for tennis) my sophomore year,” she said. “I knew she’d play again. I had never played tennis in my life. But I really loved it. I hit a few a little too hard in the beginning.”

Brunson, another infielder with a home-run swing, said friends playing tennis prompted her to join in.

“I had to pick up the game, but I put a lot of time in over the summer to get better at it,” she said. “You don’t really realize what we were able to do until you take a step back. Not many teams have been able to do what we’ve done.”

Brunson’s style of play on the court might give her away as a softball player. She serves right-handed and returns with her left hand, an unusual approach that works.

“When I first started, I figured I throw with my right hand and I swing left,” she said. “I was looking for something I could do consistently.”

Leonard said her team was a mix of multisport girls.

Sophomore Sophia Smithnosky also plays softball. She started at No. 3 singles.

Senior Ashley Marne and sophomore Emily Marne are cheerleaders, and the latter shoots rifle. Senior Olivia Stone is in the band.

Ashley Marne and Stone played first doubles.

Brown held down the No. 2 singles spot.

Smithnosky, Brown, Brunson and senior Sarah Russel were in the homecoming court Friday.

Hutter and Brunson seemed to find instant chemistry in doubles.

“We call each other off for fly balls,” Hutter said. “I think that’s part of the reason we’re such a good double combination.”

Mt. Pleasant softball went 19-2 in 2018 and ’19 and made the PIAA Class 4A semifinals both years. It was the WPIAL runner-up two years ago and won a PIAA title in 2017.

“There is a competitive nature with these girls,” Mt. Pleasant softball coach Chris Brunson said. “No matter what they do, they want to win.”

Coach Brunson said softball can translate to tennis in terms of footwork and hand-eye coordination.

“They have to slide to get to ground balls the way they slide side-to-side (in tennis),” he said. “Eye-hand is huge. Major League Baseball players play ping-pong for that reason.”

The softball players are used to winning because they come from a culture that promotes it. They also win regularly on the travel softball circuit, playing games in states including Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.

Advantage, Vikings.

“Losing (stinks),” Hutter said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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