Trio of freshmen bolster Franklin Regional singles lineup

Friday, April 27, 2018 | 11:00 PM

If the odds remain true, the next time three freshmen start the season in the top three singles spots for the Franklin Regional boys tennis team, the year will be 2057. In coach Howard Fisher's 39-year tenure as the Panthers' boys tennis coach, he never thought he would trot three freshmen to the court, but then again, these are no ordinary freshmen.

“I had not seen them play. In fact, I wasn't really introduced to them until the beginning of the season,” Fisher said. “I was able to see them condition, and that's when I really got to see that they belonged in the top three (singles) spots. It wasn't a total surprise because I had a heads up.”

Anup Nadesan, Shrey Ramesh and Advait Kulkarni have not only played beyond their years, but by contributing right away, the trio allowed for Fisher to move his upperclass talent to doubles and give his Panthers a solid lineup from No. 1 singles all the way through to No. 2 doubles. It was a luxury that helped the Panthers finish atop the Section 1-AAA standings at 8-0 record (9-2 overall) and earn the No. 8 seed in the WPIAL tournament.

“The freshmen gave the seniors and juniors the opportunity to help at different spots on the team,” Fisher said.

Eight out of the Panthers' nine section matches were 5-0 wins, with the ninth being a 4-1 victory over Penn-Trafford. The Panthers turned in a 5-0 win over No. 9 Mt. Lebanon in the first round, but fell to top-seeded Fox Chapel, 5-0, in the quarterfinals.

“I learned a lot,” said Nadesan, who finished the 8-3 in the regular season. “I just got to go all in. I can't hold back and, if I don't hold back, you never know what could have been.”

Nadesan has a unique advantage of being left-handed. From the spin on the ball to the natural curve of the ball as it sails trough the air, nearly everything is different when the ball comes off the racket of a southpaw. Fisher fell in love with the idea of having a lefty as his No. 1 singles player almost immediately.

“A lot of the right-handed people, they don't know how to play a lefty,” Nadesan said. “When we're warming up, they realize I'm left-handed, and by the time they get used to it, one set is gone.”

The success of Nadesan, Ramesh (6-2) and Kulkarni (8-1) gave Fisher solid options for the section singles competition earlier this week. The top four finishers advanced to the WPIAL tournament.

“This was the first time through for these three freshmen, and we have specific strategies that we've been successful with,” Fisher said.

Fisher credited the upperclassmen who put their egos aside and found new roles to support the team. Senior captain Joey McGinn said the team embraced the young freshmen.

“They came up prepared for the entire season and knowing what to expect,” McGinn said. “We kind of gave them a role model, set the bar high and they accepted that.”

McGinn, along with doubles partner Sean Vannatta, make up the Panthers' No. 1 tandem. Vannatta, a senior, played No. 1 singles last season before moving to doubles, where he and McGinn hold a 4-1 record. Their only loss came to Fox Chapel in the quarterfinals. Senior captain Everest Yan, Surya Seth, Frank Simpkins, Vineet Madduru and Jospeh Bonfiglio also contributed in doubles competition.

“We're expecting them to do well at our section doubles tourney and get the to WPIALs,” Fisher said. “It's been a total team effort, and we've played all 10 players at least six times (this season).”

With a talented group of freshmen and more players coming up, Fisher likes where the direction his program is going.

“The future is looking good for the next three years,” Fisher said. “We have eighth-graders coming up, and it's looking good for Franklin Regional in the next three to five years.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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