Seniors lead Hampton girls tennis

Monday, October 16, 2017 | 12:21 AM

The Hampton tennis season was all about growth and advancement.

While singles spots were nailed down from the previous season with seniors Abby Miller and Sydney Leppert occupying the No. 1 and No. 3 singles, respectively, junior Grace Kang held down the No. 2 position.

But instability at doubles and a difficult section proved to be a lot for the Talbots (5-11, 2-6 in Section 2-AAA) to overcome.

“We tried to juggle the doubles lineup a lot to find a good pairing and give the girls an opportunity,” coach Grant McKinney said.

“By the end of the season, I'm most pleased that everyone got a lot of experience. Most of these girls had never played doubles, and they showed a willingness to step outside their comfort zone.”

Miller had been comfortable as the No. 1 singles player and team captain for the past three years.

She didn't want it to end. Miller lost a close match (10-8) to Emily Ivory of Mars in the second round of the WPIAL AAA Individuals.

“It was kind of emotional finishing up,” Miller said. “But I wouldn't have it any other way. I love the team.”

Scheduling made it tough for Miller and the team to break through — section foes North Allegheny and Pine-Richland finished first and second in Class AAA, and North Allegheny featured two of the top three singles players in the region — but Miller still finished with a record slightly over .500, and appreciated the competition.

“I have to play some of the best people in Pittsburgh,” said Miller, who received scholarship offers but plans to play club tennis instead at an undetermined college.

“It's pretty humbling. But it really does help me to develop as a player because I get to play so many kinds of girls. That really has given me an opportunity to grow my own skill set.”

McKinney appreciated Miller's contributions to the program, as a player and leader off the court.

She was elected team co-captain as a sophomore and never relinquished the title.

Leppert also finished above .500 at the third spot and was a team captain.

“Sydney improved in her second year,” McKinney said. “Knowing the game, knowing when to go for a shot and when to wait for an opponent's mistake.”

Looking to next year, Kang likely will step into the No. 1 role, and though McKinney liked her development, he acknowledged the tough road ahead.

“She had a fine season. She can place the ball where she wants it and never seems to make a mistake for the most part. Her biggest challenge is stepping up to first singles. It's going to be a big challenge for her.”

Junior Lehka Pendyala helped stabilize the first doubles pairing.

“She has strokes that are as good as singles players,” McKinney said. “She most embodied the diligence to learn doubles strategy.”

McKinney is looking forward to next year, where a couple of rising freshmen could have varsity talent.

“That gives them four years to learn and grow, rather than come in as a junior or senior. I don't want to say the freshmen are more moldable, but the upperclassmen become more set in their ways.”

Devon Moore is a freelance writer.


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