Championship players among their groups of returning veterans figure to keep Abington Heights and Scranton Prep at or near the top of local girls’ tennis again this season.
The Lady Comets and Classics each finished up in state team tournament play last season and had players make it to Hershey for state singles and doubles competition.
District 2-4 Class AAA singles champion Tyra Abdalla returns for Abington Heights while both the Lady Comets and Classics have one player returning from district championship doubles teams.
Cierra Beck is back for Abington Heights after winning a District 2-4 Class AAA doubles gold medal and Grace Reilly returns for Scranton Prep after her gold in the District 2 Class AA doubles tournament.
Highly competitive practice sessions began at each school Monday to form the lineups that will take the courts for the August 20 Lackawanna League openers.
Wallenpaupack and North Pocono could be the top threats in Class AAA with Valley View remaining Scranton Prep’s top AA competition within the league.
The three-time defending champion Lady Comets have won their last 40 league matches, including a 15-0 mark last season.
“We’re fortunate to have quite a few of our starters back,” Abington Heights coach Tom Lavelle said.
Abdalla leads that group after playing first singles last year.
“Our expectations are certainly high for her,” Lavelle said, “and, she holds those high expectations for herself, too, to continue a successful high school career.
“She’s been a big part of our team, leading us from the number-one spot last year and she’s working very hard on improving her game.”
Beck played number-three singles last season before moving to doubles for district play.
“Her dedication to the game is immense,” Lavelle said.
Senior Katie Decker and junior Rachel Smertz formed a strong number-one doubles team last season.
Junior Jessica Rickwood and sophomore Rachel Muir were part of a rotation of players that filled the second doubles team.
With at least one singles spot open, Lavelle said it was unclear what shape the lineup would take as he prepared to evaluate the team at the first practice.
“We had a talented group of players who didn’t earn a starting spot last year, but are certainly capable and expected to compete for starting spots this season,” Lavelle said. “We are a pretty deep team. Those players who didn’t land a starting spot showed a lot of talent and a lot of promise.”
Reilly, a senior, and Emily Jonsson, a sophomore, occupied the second and third singles spots during the regular season last year. Reilly joined number-one singles player Kendra Croker, who has since graduated, to form the district championship doubles combination.
Reilly keeps up a busy United States Tennis Association tournament schedule, including an upcoming event this weekend in New Jersey, and challenges herself against a variety of players year-round.
“She has been playing against strong boys and men,” Scranton Prep coach Kathleen McKenna said. “I think that’s smart for her to be doing.
“They always play good players, but there are a lot of players in the league who play different types of games and you have to play players of all levels to really prepare yourself.”
Jonsson is back after providing the only singles point in last year’s 3-2 district team championship win over Wyoming Seminary.
Three of the four winning doubles players from that match – senior Annie Tressler and juniors Emilia Jakubek and Sophia Rinaldi – are also back. Tressler is serving as co-captain along with Reilly.
McKenna expects a strong group of incoming freshmen to add to the battle to get into the lineup.
Scranton Prep went 14-1 in league play in 2012 with the only loss coming to Abington Heights.