While the Penn State Altoona women’s tennis team will feature a very young roster this fall, much of that youth also brings experience. The Lady Lions have a group of five returning sophomores who figure to make up a significant portion of the squad’s regular lineup this season.
Sophomore Brayley Lewis (Roaring Spring, PA/Bishop Guilfoyle) is Penn State Altoona’s top returner after being voted the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference’s Newcomer of the Year last fall. She posted an 8-3 overall record in singles play, including a 6-1 mark against AMCC opponents, while playing the majority of her matches in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. In doubles, Lewis went 8-4 overall and 5-2 versus AMCC opposition while usually playing in the No. 1 slot. Additionally, she was selected the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s Division III South Region Rookie of the Month for September after amassing six singles victories and five doubles wins during that month.
Another sophomore returner, Annie Ruggles (Hollidaysburg, PA/Hollidaysburg), was a second team All-AMCC pick for No. 6 singles last season. In that lineup slot, Ruggles posted a 5-2 overall record and a 4-1 mark against AMCC opponents. She also contributed an 8-5 overall doubles record, including going 6-2 in doubles matches against AMCC players.
Three other student-athletes return from last season’s team: sophomores Victoria Acker (Cresson, PA/Penn Cambria), Kate Hugendubler (Reedsville, PA/Mifflin County), and Patricia Whelan (Newburgh, NY/John S. Burke Catholic).
Fifth-year head coach Doug Simmons knows that his young returners will have to play big roles for the team this season. Penn State Altoona will be without two key players from last year’s regular lineup, including losing graduated senior Michelle Colucci, who is the women’s tennis program’s all-time wins leader for singles and doubles.
"I expect every single one of my sophomores to contribute to the team," said Simmons. "We lost our No. 1 player [Colucci] and our No. 4 [Madelyn Seidel], so finding players to step up is going to be one of the biggest needs for our current team. The challenge matches to determine our lineup should be interesting."
Simmons points to freshmen Sophia Girol (South Park, PA/South Park) and Sierra Snigier (Seaford, DE/Seaford) as two newcomers who have the ability to step in and play right away. All in all, the coach knows that his young roster will need to play with the poise and consistency of upperclassmen if the team wants to qualify for the AMCC postseason tournament for the fifth consecutive season.
"We are very young and we don’t have that dominant player that Michelle Colucci has been for the past four years," Simmons explained. "Everyone is going to have to step up, because everyone is going to have to play a spot in the lineup."
If Penn State Altoona’s young returners continue to make strides, and if the team’s first-year players are able to hold their own, Simmons believes that the Lady Lions can make another AMCC postseason run.
"As always, my hope is to win the AMCC," he stated. "I would be happy to see everyone improve throughout the season, though, as I’m looking to grow as a team throughout the year."
Penn State Altoona women’s tennis starts its 2017 schedule on Saturday, September 2 at 12:00 p.m., when it travels to face non-conference opponent Geneva College. Other road matches for the Lady Lions include AMCC opponents Franciscan University (September 4), D’Youville College (September 9), Medaille College (September 10), and Mount Aloysius College (October 1), as well as non-conference foe Washington & Jefferson College (October 8).
The Lady Lions will host matches in Altoona against AMCC opponents Penn State Behrend (September 15), Pitt-Bradford (September 23), Pitt-Greensburg (September 24), and La Roche College (September 29), as well as a non-conference home match against Frostburg State University (September 30).
With the Penn State Altoona campus tennis courts still unavailable due to the construction of the new Adler Athletic Complex, the Lady Lions are scheduled to play four of their five home contests at the Leopold Tennis Courts at Altoona Area High School. The only exception is the September 29 match against La Roche, which is currently set to take place at ProCare Fitness Center.