Penn Hills senior grows into game on tennis court

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Sunday, October 3, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Francie Buckner doesn’t always know what she’s doing on the tennis court.

Don’t search for any signs of apprehension from Buckner though. The Penn Hills senior has a serious poker face to throw off her opponents.

They don’t need to know about her lack of experience. Buckner, who started playing tennis at 16 after playing volleyball before, spent most of this season as one of the Indians’ singles players.

“It being my second year playing singles was scary,” Buckner said. “I had to put on my best poker face.”

Buckner picked up her first singles win during a match with Gateway earlier in the season. At the Section 1-3A tournament, Buckner was seeded 14th and lost to third-seeded Oakland Catholic’s Isabella Liu-Lopez in the first round.

Liu-Lopez would reach the semifinals before losing. Buckner, who played a number of close matches throughout the season, saw big improvements between her first and second season.

“I think I shocked a lot of people this year,” Buckner said. “Last year, I could barely hold the racket. This year, I was able to return the serves of some girls who play in college. People were shocked I just started out.”

Working with players of various experience levels isn’t new to Penn Hills. The Indians had nine players this season and coach Richard Parks was hoping many would add skills quickly like Buckner did.

In the section doubles tournament, Olivia Grainey and Stephanie Coto won their play-in match before bowing out in the second round.

“I thought they played well together,” Parks said. “They were consistent, and we had a plan for them to follow and it worked.”

Buckner decided to try playing tennis because she wanted a sport with a slower pace and more individual focus. What she found was a game where opposing coaches were just as supportive as her coaches.

Having that type of support is something that allowed Buckner to enjoy going through the growing pains of playing a new sport.

“I think it would be patience,” Buckner said, describing what skills she developed. “If you go too fast, the ball isn’t going to stay in. I was charging in too much. I learned to look at the ball, actually breathe and then hit my shot.”

Parks believes many of the current roster will continue with the junior tennis program at the Mellon Bubble. Having players like Buckner will help grow the program.

“We are able to give some people an opportunity to play,” Parks said. “With some other sports, kids aren’t able to play. Some of the girls have expressed how much they enjoy the sport and they may have a couple of other people interested for next year.”

Buckner enjoyed the learning process.

She hopes she was able to open a few eyes.

“Honestly, coach Rich taught me once you know the basics, you can apply them to any situation,” Buckner said. “I just applied them and hoped for the best.”

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