Getting the Gold
Once again, expectations were high for the Abington Heights girls tennis team.
There was a difference this year, with rival and fellow tennis power Scranton Prep in their division of the Lackawanna League. The road to another division crown would be a tougher journey.
But a 3-2 win over the Classics on Thursday, Sept. 13 made this year's league championship even sweeter.
"It is a traditional rivalry and Scranton Prep is such a strong team and competitive opponent," Lady Comets head coach Tom Lavelle said. "Our team showed much composure in coming up with a victory. The rivalry was further intensified in light of the fact that it was our first time playing them in league competition in four seasons."
The Lady Comets got a little more bang for their buck, extending their division winning streak to 40 matches despite sustaining heavy losses due to graduation. They knew that opponents would be highly motivated to be the team to take them down.
"Our athletes were aware of the expectations held for them," Lavelle said. "We had come off of a successful season and lost five starting members. Our team responded to the challenge and exceeded expectations."
Defending their subregional title was another primary goal, and faring well in the state team championships meant needing to play at a high level against different competition. Abington Heights did exactly that.
"It's always important to set the bar a little bit higher each season," Lavelle said. "I think that reaching the quarterfinals of the PIAA team state competition was an example of an outstanding accomplishment of which I am very proud."
In Lavelle's eyes, every athlete on the team played a role in its achievements this year.
"It's definitely a team effort out there and I'm certainly proud of the performances of all of our teams' members," Lavelle said. "Allie Pusateri had a spectacular senior season capping an incredible career. Her reaching the finals of singles districts is a credit to all of her hard work and dedication. Her reaching the finals required her to upset two players seeded above her."
As a senior who has bounced around the Lady Comets lineup, Pusateri was a prime example of being a team player and showing leadership.
"Allie is a true leader and demonstrates a strong work ethic on and off the court," Lavelle said. "Her determination definitely helped to provide a high amount of focus during matches and practices."
Having sophomore Tyra Abdalla rise and assume the top singles spot in the lineup, then claim the District 2 Class AAA title - beating Pusateri in an all-Abington Heights final - made Lavelle's hopes of repeating as division champ a much easier task. She has yet to lose a singles match in league or district competition.
"Tyra stepped up to the Number 1 position with a lot of poise and composure for an underclassman," Lavelle said. "The way in which she's conducted herself as our Number 1 and her undefeated season and singles district championship was impressive. She is a very intelligent player and does not get rattled easily even in close matches. She exhibits a lot of maturity on the court."
At no. 3 singles behind Abdalla and Pusateri was sophomore Cierra Beck, who ultimately was paired with Pusateri, a duo that captured the district doubles title.
"Cierra brings about an immense amount of dedication to practice and relies on her competitive nature to succeed," Lavelle said. "She is determined to get every ball back and plays a lot of competitive tennis."
At many schools, the drop between the singles and doubles players can be dramatic, but Lavelle was blessed with depth and talent, starting with junior Katie Decker and sophomore Rachel Smertz.
"Decker and Smertz proved themselves to be an effective doubles pairing," Lavelle said. "Despite playing with multiple partners in different starting positions, they demonstrated an ability to work together and achieve something very special for a true doubles team in finishing in third place in the doubles district tournament."
The no. 2 doubles duo of junior Elyse Notarianni and freshman Rachael Muir also exhibited a strong team spirit.
"Elyse and Rachael had a great season and are determined to continue their success," Lavelle said. "Elyse was instrumental in gaining a second point for our team in our match versus Scranton Prep while starting in Number 2 doubles.
"Rachael had a very successful first year season as a doubles player for our team. We have high expectations for her in future years, and shows a lot of potential."
With the league winning streak at 40, the Lady Comets will be the hunted team again, but the players have grown accustomed to wearing the bulls-eye, and next year won't be any different.
"It's a competitive league and our traditional rivals will put in a lot of hard work in the off season," Lavelle said. "Scranton Prep and Valley View provided us with two very competitive and close competitions. We need to continue to work hard and develop our game to continue success."