Quaker Valley girls tennis looking to foster competitive mindset

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Sunday, August 29, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Christi Hays looks back at 2020 and can’t believe some of the hoops her team had to jump through just to play.

Hays’ Quaker Valley girls tennis team was required to have its players carry their own, individual sleeves of tennis balls around, unable to share with teammates out of fear of covid-19 transmission. It was one of several measures taken by the team to stay on the court.

“It was weird,” said Hays, now in her 10th season leading the Quakers. “For doubles, there were four cans of balls going around. We had to be so intentional about the whole thing. But the girls absolutely bought into it.

“We were in a new section, which is always an adjustment. But everything was an adjustment last year. We were actually quite happy with the way we finished.”

Now Hays and the Quakers are ready to get back to normal and are hopeful for another solid year after qualifying for the Class 2A postseason and finishing second in their section behind WPIAL runner-up Sewickley Academy.

“All of them spent a lot of time on the court (this summer),” said Hays of her group, which hopes to improve on the 5-4 record it posted in 2020.

Hays feels comfortable with her singles players but will be searching for some capable volunteers to join the doubles side.

“Most of them, naturally, are singles players,” she said. “Doubles is a different mindset, a different skillset. … They’re going to have to just learn on the fly. That’s tough, but they seem very willing.”

Quaker Valley will have to replace four seniors, including Emily Sanders, who qualified for the WPIAL Class 2A singles tournament.

With Sanders graduated, senior Mary Pangburn assumes the top singles spot.

“She’s an excellent singles player,” Hays said of Pangburn. “She really makes her opponent earn every single point. So she’s willing to grind it out on the court.”

Loren Barnes, a junior, might split time between singles and doubles, and doubles specialist Amanda Chau will provide consistency at that spot, provided a solid partner can be found.

One of Chau’s classmates, Lauren Blackmer, will be a doubles player.

Hays is excited about a freshman in Joyce Olawaiye, who already has earned the role of No. 2 singles player.

“She’s going to be a star at second singles,” Hays said. “That’s going to be really fun.”

Seniors Grace Stampfel and Sophia Gledhill, junior Lauren Lenhard and sophomores Kate Hines and Katherine Stampfel round out the lineup for Quaker Valley.

The Quakers will be looking to catch a perennially strong bunch from Sewickley Academy but will also see section battles with Ambridge, Carlynton, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks and Montour, which finished third in Section 5-2A last year.

“We’d be thrilled with second place, because that qualifies us for (the WPIAL team playoffs).” Hays said. “If we somehow pull off an upset with Sewickley, that’d be great. But that’d be a big headline. They’re just so good.”

Ultimately, Hays knows the best way her team can build on 2020’s successes is with consistent effort.

“We’re competing against other teams and competing within the team itself for spots,” she said. “But what I say to them all of the time is, ‘Every time you go out on the court, the only player you’re trying to be better than is the player you were yesterday.’ ”

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