Sewickley Academy girls tennis aims to defend WPIAL Class 2A crown

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Sunday, August 28, 2022 | 9:01 AM


Expect the dynasty to continue this season for the Sewickley Academy girls tennis program.

Since 2008, the SA netters have won eight WPIAL titles, including four in the past five years — facing Knoch in the finals all five times — and three PIAA championships, including back-to-back crowns in 2018-19.

Since 1995, Sewickley has reeled in 18 section titles with a run of 14 in a row since the 2008 season.

“There’s a lot of pride here,” coach Whitney Snyder following last season. “That bodes well for having fun and for being on a team.”

The Panthers defeated Knoch, 4-1, in last year’s WPIAL Class 2A finals then went on to finish as the PIAA runner-up.

Five seniors graduated from the 2021 squad: Roshni Thakkar, Milla Dobrovolska-Ivanova, Elim Chen, Saanvi Singh and Sofia Smith.

But Sewickley is a solid bet to maintain its WPIAL prominence this season with five returning starters in the lineup.

Synder, SA’s ultra-successful coach, welcomed back two of his leading singles players, junior Ashley Close and sophomore Kirsten Close, plus three top doubles competitors, junior Anjali Shah, sophomore Rayna Thakkar and Maria Silvaggio, the team’s lone senior.

The Panthers’ early lineup consists of the Close sisters at No. 1 and No. 2 singles with Thakkar at No. 3. Shah and Silvaggio are set at No. 1 doubles with two newcomers to the lineup, junior Gwyn Belt and sophomore Maria Sirianni, at No. 2. Abigail Bojalad, a junior, rounds out the roster.

There are four juniors, one senior and three sophomores on the eight-player team roster.

“I am really excited to start the season,” Ashley Close said. “We did unfortunately lose five seniors but we gained much talent coming from the JV team and returning starters. I would like to give a shoutout to our seniors who have left. We miss them very much and can’t wait to see what amazing things they’re going to do in college.

“I feel we will be very successful this season, and I’m excited to see what we are going to do. I am trying not to set any expectations for myself. I am just looking forward to playing and competing against difficult competition.”

Ashley Close is the defending WPIAL Class 2A individual champion. Her younger sister Kirsten, competing with partner Roshni Thakkar, placed second in the WPIAL doubles playoffs.

Ashley Close rolled through the 2021 campaign undefeated until reaching the state finals.

Kirsten Close, who like Ashley competes for Pittsburgh Premier Lacrosse Club and the Fox Chapel girls lacrosse team, has high hopes for SA girls tennis this year.

“I definitely think Sewickley Academy girls tennis will thrive,” she said. “Even though our team is relatively young and lost five seniors, we still have a very skilled and close-knit team.

“I personally just want to have fun this season and get used to playing people in my new No. 2 spot.”

Thakkar, who teamed up with Shah as a doubles pair in 2021, is looking forward to competing at No. 3 singles.

“I am anxious yet excited to see the different types of matches and players I will face,” she said. “Being in this position, I feel I will be able to make a strong contribution to our team. I miss playing doubles with Anjali; however, I am ready for the season that awaits me.

“I have high expectations that our team will be very competitive and a contender for the WPIAL playoffs despite moving sections. Even though we lost a lot of good players, my returning teammates and new teammates show a lot of potential as a whole.”

As an extracurricular activity, Thakkar helps organize a program called Steel City Codes in which she and her peers help teach programming skills to middle school students. Additionally, Thakkar takes classical Indian and Bollywood dance classes.

“I feel this season is going to be a lot of fun,” she said. “I am looking forward to the leadership from our captains and coaches. I am excited to see what we can do and how we take on new challenges.”

There were 36 girls tennis teams in WPIAL Class 2A last year. There are 37 this year.

Sewickley captured the 2021 WPIAL team title behind the Close sisters, who won at No. 1 and No. 3 singles, and by sweeping Knoch in doubles thanks to Shah, Silvaggio and the Thakkar sisters.

As the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL tournament, the Panthers rolled by Ringgold, Quaker Valley and Beaver by 5-0 scores before defeating top-seeded Knoch.

SA cruised to first place in Section 5, ahead of Ambridge, Carlynton, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks, Montour and Quaker Valley. Sewickley, Montour and QV took the top three spots.

This season, the Panthers have moved into Section 4 and will compete against the likes of Beaver, Beaver Falls, Blackhawk, Ellwood City, Neshannock and Riverside.

SA lost 3-2 decision to Wyoming Seminary at last year’s state finals at Hershey Racquet Club. The Panthers swept past Somerset and Wyomissing in reaching the PIAA final four.

The SA girls blanked Lower Moreland in the semifinal round, as did Wyoming Seminary against Conrad Weiser.

“It’s a privilege to play for a state championship,” Snyder said.

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