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HIGH SCHOOL TENNIS NOTEPAD: Panthers enjoying success in new conference

The Massaponax girls tennis team graduated a lot of talent from last year’s squad, but some good leaders returned.

Seniors Maria Sylvia and Jenna Phillips—the Panthers’ regular Nos. 1 and 2 singles seeds, respectively—have been stepping up since the preseason to get the team prepared.

“Jenna’s like the field general. She’s always organizing things with the girls, and Maria kind of leads by example,” Massaponax coach John Shinberger said. “They both helped organize getting the kids out to the Y on Fridays and Saturdays going all the way back to January to help get the team ready.”

The Panthers have gotten off to a 7–3 start, with a 3–0 record in conference play, which is right on track with at least one of their goals—winning Conference 15.

The team also has three other seniors who have done their part as well to get the squad’s combined eight sophomores and freshmen in the groove as quickly as possible.

“I think we have a good nucleus of seniors. My top two have been with me for four years, and the other seniors have been with me for the past three years,” Shinberger said. “And then the younger ones have started to step up and play a lot better as the season has gone on.”

The new conference setup has also been a blessing as Massaponax no longer has to face perennially strong teams Riverbend, Stafford and Colonial Forge as part of the Conference 15 schedule.

The Panthers still faced them this season, but now those matches served as good measuring sticks as to where the team was early in the season, and will do so again after spring break.

“I think we’re set up for this year, especially with the change in conference, because they know they can compete with these teams [in Conference 4],” said Shinberger of his girls, most of whom play only during the high school season.

Another goal was being competitive against their former Commonwealth District rivals, which didn’t happen in their first meetings, as they fell 9–0 to the Bears, Indians and Eagles.

They get another shot at those three and close out their conference schedule after the break.

“So far we’ve done well in our conference and we look forward to getting to play Riverbend, Stafford and Forge again,” Shinberger said.

The veteran coach added that the team is also excited about potentially reaching new heights.

“Not trying to look past anyone, but we’re looking forward to having somebody come to our place and hosting them in a semifinal,” he said. “Our girls have never gotten past the district tournament, so that was another goal this year.”

—Tom Leiss