Seniors Turner-Johnson, McClendon step into top singles spots for Penn Hills tennis

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Thursday, September 5, 2019 | 12:56 PM


Jack Kowalski has seen a lot over the last two decades when it comes to coaching the Penn Hills girls tennis program.

After going winless last season, the Indians will look toward continued growth from a pair of seniors — Sabrice Turner-Johnson and Makayla McClendon.

Turner-Johnson, a four-year starter, will take over first singles after the graduation of Nicole Caldwell and Jena Wilkes. The Indians will miss the contributions made by Ayanna Mallory and Skye Roche.

Caldwell lost to Woodland Hills’ Reilly Reis, 10-1, in the opening round of the Section 3-AAA singles tournament last season.

Turner-Johnson will look to improve on her performance at the section tournament. In the opening round last year, she lost to Plum’s Ashlynn Miller, 10-0.

Last season, Caldwell and Turner-Johnson paired up to play in the Section doubles tournament where they lost to Allderdice’s Chloe Ruben and Gwen Thompson, 10-5, in the opening round.

“I want them to believe in themselves. If you believe in yourself, you will go as far as you want to go,” Kowalski said.

“I want them to have a lot of confidence in their game and keep their eye on the ball. Practice makes perfect but not completely perfect.”

McClendon, a three-year starter, will slide into second singles but will share time with Jayda Gordon.

Last year, McClendon teamed up with Mallory in the Section doubles tournament. McClendon and Mallory lost to Baldwin’s Emma Sugal and Kelsey Murphy, 10-0, in the opening round.

The Indians, who only have eight players on the roster, feature senior Fiona McMillian-Van Hausen at third singles.

Even with the experience of Turner-Johnson and McClendon, Kowalski once again will have his influx of first-time tennis players, which includes a group of freshmen.

Freshmen Talia Russell and Kellia Rivera have paired up at first doubles, while freshman Amaya McClendon and senior Dayonnia Poracey team up at second doubles.

“We’re going to do well. We’re improving every practice. I see a vast improvement every practice,” Kowalski said.

In recent years, Kowalski has been battling low numbers and the lack of tennis courts at the school.

The team still practices and plays matches at Boyce Park. With a couple of players involved in the cyber school program, it makes it tricky for Kowalski to get everyone together for practices.

Even though they don’t have the ideal conditions, Penn Hills hopes to battle against teams in Section 3-AAA, including WPIAL runner-up Shady Side Academy.

Section 3 also includes Fox Chapel, Oakland Catholic, Baldwin, Allderdice, Bethel Park, Plum, Thomas Jefferson and Woodland Hills.

The Indians will have their Senior Day when they face Springdale on Oct. 1 before finishing their season at North Hills on Oct. 4.

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