Sewickley Academy tennis players wrap up strong season by placing at states

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Sunday, November 20, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Sewickley Academy tennis standout Ashley Close closed out her junior season Nov. 5 in Hershey as the PIAA Class 2A runner-up.

Wyoming Seminary’s Ilana Rosenthal won the Class 2A state championship, with South Park senior Nicole Kempton placing third and Knoch junior Emily Greb taking fourth. Kempton captured the WPIAL 2A title this season.

Rosenthal defeated Kempton in the semifinals and Close in the finals, both in straight sets.

“My last match was definitely the hardest match I played all season,” Close said. “I actually played (Rosenthal) last year and it was a pretty close match, but she has gotten a lot better.”

Close knocked off Greb to reach the finals. Kempton defeated Greb for third place in a rematch of a WPIAL semifinal.

“I thought I played pretty well during the PIAA tournament but was really pushed to play the best I could because of the great competition,” Close said. “I placed much better than I thought I would during the tournament.

“I thought the competition was very good, although I saw some similar competition from my area since three out of the final four players were from my district.”

No WPIAL player has won the state singles championship in 2A since Quaker Valley’s Annie Houghton in 2004.

In PIAA doubles competition, Sewickley Academy junior Gwyn Belt and sophomore Rayna Thakkar lost in the 2A semifinal to Knoch’s Ally Bauer and Lindsey Greb in a rematch of the WPIAL doubles championship.

“Rayna and I were very competitive and played hard,” Belt said. “Our tennis games complement each other very well and I think we will only improve. Rayna is relentless and determined on the court and is a very skilled player.

“I think we had a great season. We worked really hard to achieve the success that we had, and we are looking to go even further next year. Not only are my teammates excellent tennis players, but we are all good friends which contributes to our chemistry on the court.”

Sewickley sophomore Kirsten Close was seeded 10th in Class 2A for the PIAA singles tournament.

The Panthers, coached by Whitney Snyder, finished 17-3 overall in 2022.

SA has won 15 consecutive section titles and 19 overall. The Panthers were WPIAL champions in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021 and state champions in 2011, 2018 and 2019.

“I am very grateful for my coach, Whitney Snyder, and his staff, Al Novak and Cherry Bharati,” Belt said. “They are all so dedicated to the team and have built a great program at SA.”

Belt, who is tall and left-handed, plans to play the goaltending position on the Sewickley girls lacrosse team in the spring. She serves as president of Rebuilding Pittsburgh and is the prefect of house council.

“My season was one of tremendous growth as a player and a teammate,” Belt said. “I was given the sportsmanship award for my district, placed top four in the state double championships and helped my team finish second in the state.

“Being a lefty, my serve is a huge weapon. Also being tall is an advantage at the net and covering the court. I really enjoyed playing with my (Sewickley) team doubles partner, Anjali Shah, who brought skill, energy and leadership to our game.”

Ashley Close, who also plays lacrosse at SA as does her younger sister, said she will prepare for next year by maintaining a regular practice schedule in the offseason.

“I usually take a break from tennis during my lacrosse season,” Close said, “but I play tennis usually three days a week in any other season.”

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