Sewickley Academy girls tennis team caps super season with trip to state finals

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Sunday, November 7, 2021 | 11:01 AM


WPIAL champion Sewickley Academy finished the girls tennis season with honors, ending up as PIAA runners-up.

The SA girls stormed through the regular season and playoffs until losing a tight 3-2 decision to Wyoming Seminary in the PIAA Class 2A finals Oct. 30 at Hershey Racquet Club.

The Panthers closed out their team schedule with their 14th consecutive section title, eighth WPIAL championship in school history and a second-place showing in the state.

“It’s a privilege to play for a state championship,” said Whitney Snyder, who is in his 30th year of coaching at SA. “We graduated five seniors from last year’s starting lineup, at one, three, four, six and seven. They were really dominant players for four years. When you graduate that many, you don’t know what to expect.

“We had some very nice wins this year, against Mt. Lebanon, Pine-Richland, Shady Side Academy and Peters Township. We had to be at our very best, and that helped us gain confidence. It gave the girls a lot of confidence going into the state playoffs.

“The girls were peaking at the right time and played a tremendous match against Wyoming Seminary. Our kids really fought hard. I am extremely proud of their performance.”

One of the key factors in the Panthers’ success this year was the large turnout.

“Thirty-one girls came out for tennis. There’s a lot of pride here,” Snyder said. “That bodes well for having fun and for being on a team.”

Sewickley’s starting lineup against Wyoming Seminary consisted of sophomore Ashley Close, senior Milla Dobrovolska-Ivanova and freshman Kirsten Close at the top three singles spots along with the doubles pairs of sophomore Anjali Shah and freshman Rayna Thakkar at No. 1 and junior Maria Silvaggio and senior Roshni Thakkar at No. 2.

SA 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.

“That’s a unique situation,” Snyder said. “You have to be physically ready to play a second match on the same day, and you have to be emotionally ready to do it.”

As the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL tournament, Sewickley rolled by Ringgold, Quaker Valley and Beaver by 5-0 scores, then defeated top-seeded Knoch, 4-1, in the championship round.

“I felt privileged to be given the opportunity to represent my school in the WPIAL tournament,” said Close, the WPIAL Class 2A singles champion this year who also is an accomplished lacrosse player. “I think our team had a very strong season. Although we didn’t clinch the state title, I am so proud of all my teammates’ hard work, and to be honest, I am happy with the outcome.

“I would also like to give a shout-out to the seniors that I love and will miss so much.”

Close did not participate in the WPIAL singles tournament in 2020 after defaulting out of the Section 5 championship match because of a sprained ankle.

This season, she was victorious at WPIALs with a 6-3, 6-3 decision Sept. 24 at North Allegheny against Knoch junior Ally Bauer.

“High school tennis is a team sport, and Ashley is so team oriented,” Snyder said. “You never know who might be in a big match.

“It’s a blessing to coach these kids, especially Ashley. She has been in a lot of big matches for us in her first two years on the team.”

Close, who competes for Pittsburgh Premier Lacrosse Club and the Fox Chapel girls lacrosse team, defeated Dobrovolska-Ivanova, 6-0, 6-2, on Sept. 17 in the section championship match. Close lost a total of three games in three matches.

Sewickley has won eight WPIAL crowns since 2006 with Snyder at the helm.

Snyder also has led the SA boys team to 23 championships in the last 26 played seasons.

There were 36 teams in WPIAL Class 2A this year. The Panthers captured the WPIAL title by defeating playoff rival Knoch, 4-1, on Oct. 20 at Washington & Jefferson.

The Close sisters won at singles, and Panthers swept in doubles thanks to Shah, Silvaggio and the Thakkar sisters.

Ashley Close defeated Bauer at No. 1 singles, with Kirsten Close picking up a resounding victory over Lindsey Greb at No. 3 singles.

In doubles, Shah and Rayna Thakkar were victorious against Ava Santora and Jade Nether, as were Silvaggio and Roshni Thakkar against Kenzie Gumto and Lara Ejzak.

The SA girls, representing one of the premier programs in the district, have won four of the past five WPIAL crowns and have faced Knoch in the finals all five times.

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

“Last year, we lost to Knoch in the (WPIAL) finals in 3 hours, 37 minutes,” Snyder said. “It was one of the longest and most competitive matches that you could imagine. We didn’t get to go states (because of covid concerns), and that was really hard. I think the kids who returned this year were hungry to get back.

“I was just excited for the opportunity to play for the state championship. Hopefully, that will get the girls exited for next year as it has in the past.”

Senior leadership for the Panthers has been provided by the likes of Roshni Thakkar, Dobrovolska-Ivanova, Elim Chen, Saanvi Singh and Sofia Smith.

There are two sets of sisters on the team. Three of the four girls will return next season.

“That was a lot of fun to watch how each of the pair of sisters pulled for one another,” Snyder said. “Their bonds are tremendously strong.”

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