Norwin’s Santilli, Knoch freshman Greb claim WPIAL singles titles

Friday, October 13, 2017 | 5:48 PM

Two WPIAL champions set out to defend their singles tennis titles Friday at North Allegheny.

Norwin senior Maria Santilli succeeded.

The Cincinnati recruit, in a battle of blazing forehands, defeated North Allegheny freshman phenom Ava Catanzarite, 6-4, 6-2, to claim a second consecutive Class AAA championship.

“I'd say that repeating as champ was tougher than winning it last year,” Santilli said. “That's mainly because Ava is such a great player. It's hard to believe she's only 15. She's a great competitor, and she has the right mindset. Plus, she's a lefty, and I had to make some adjustments in playing the spin on her shots.”

The first set opened with Santilli breaking Catanzarite twice, and Catanzarite returning the favor once. Santilli held her serve the rest of the way for the win.

The second set began the same way for Santilli, as she broke serve twice in the first three games.

Catanzarite tried to climb back into the match when, trailing 4-1, she broke Santilli. Santilli then returned the favor and served out to close the match.

“I had to work hard and earn everything. She gave me nothing all day,” Santilli said. “My serve and my forehand are my strong points, and I needed both today.”

Santilli's coach at Norwin, Ryan Hornick, felt it would be a tough match.

“Maria hasn't been challenged a lot, but I knew this would be a challenge today,” he said. “I knew the type of player Ava was. Maria has worked very hard for this. She's committed to be the best. Now, she'll get ready to defend her state title. It's been a great ride being able to coach her. She will surely be missed next year.”

In Class AA, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart's Katherine Marks also was looking to defend her WPIAL title, but the junior fell short to Knoch freshman Laura Greb, 6-4, 6-1.

“I was very nervous at the start of the match,” Greb said. “Now, I'm super excited. I knew that Katherine was a very good player, and I would have to play my best. I just wanted to hit everything back, and I was very pleased with my ground strokes today.”

Marks defeated Knoch's Elle Santora in the final last season and finished third at the PIAA tournament.

“I'm disappointed,” Marks said. “But give credit to Laura. She played great.

“I'll start working on doing better at states this year.”

In the Class AAA consolation match, North Allegheny's Ashley Huang swept Montour's Isabela Paixao, 6-0, 6-0. She will join Santilli and Catanzarite at the PIAA tournament Nov. 3-4 in Hershey.

Greb will be joined at the state tournament by teammate Brooke Bauer, who won her consolation match over Indiana's Kelsey Heckert, 6-1, 6-1.

Marty Stewart is a freelance writer.

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