Niagara Gazette — Kristin Janese has been coaching girls tennis at Niagara-Wheatfield for eight years, and the majority of that time, five of her roster spots have remained locked up by the same group of girls.
After an 11-3 finish earned her 2011 team second place in the Niagara Frontier League, Janese will look to that trio to lead her Falcons to a league championship.
Returning for their fifth seasons with the team are seniors Liz Barrett, Frannie Viola, Kelsey Murphy, Lyndzie Vail and Bri Fiorita. Joining them on one of the deepest teams in the NFL are fellow senior returnee and fourth-year player Karyn Kalita.
"I think the girls really want to improve their record from last year," Janese said. "Things have definitely been more intense this year and they're really working together as a team to get better."
Rounding out the N-W roster are two juniors, a sophomore and one seventh-grader in Lila Trunzo. Janese said she'll lean on her six seniors for most of the year, while rotating in Trunzo and the other underclassmen to ensure they get experience.
Opposing teams know they're in for a match when facing Niagara-Wheatfield. Niagara Falls coach Joe Sarkees made a point to call the Falcons contenders.
"It should be a competitive year in the NFL," he said. "Lockport and defending champion Kenmore West both look strong, but I really see Niagara-Wheatfield as the dark horse. The Falcons have a team that can do some real damage."
Mia Villani, Annie Corrao, Zaineb Khawar, Liana Buscaglia and Emelie-Jo Scheffler look to be mainstays in the Vikings' top seven this year following the loss of nine seniors from last season's 5-9 team, including four starters.
Returning to the lineup are captains Corrao (senior) and Buscaglia (junior), as well as first singles player Villani. New faces include Khawar, a senior, and Scheffler, a freshman.
"We're hoping to be 500 or better," coach Julie Neville said. "We've had a few years where we've been under that, and that'd be a step in the right direction."
Sarkees, now in his sixth season, lost 13 players — 11 seniors and two transfers — from last season's team, which went 2-12 in NFL play. Gone are Kelsi Leo and Britini D'Angelo, who played first and second singles for the Wolverines throughout 2011.
Returning is a team with only two seniors, Margaret Kwon and Monika Sobot. The Wolverines' entire lineup has been reworked, but Sarkees said there's reason to be optimistic.
"With only two seniors, we're obviously a very young team," Sarkees said, "but while the rest of the league has struggled to get girls to participate, we've been blessed to have another large squad. We've got 21 players this year.
"Losing two underclassmen to transfer and double-digit players to graduation is never a good thing, but we'll be ready to compete."
Leading the Falls will be eighth-grader Isabel Eligino, who Sarkees expects to play first singles every match. Following her in second and third singls will be senior Margaret Kwon and freshman Carli Leo. The team also features sophomore Madison DalPorto, who Sarkees calls his doubles specialist, junior Elizabeth Kwon, senior Monika Sobot and sophomore Natelie Manning.
The Lancers lost Mackenzie Lank, who played first singles on last season's winless squad, but head coach Paul Frederick said a high number of tryouts and key returnees has things looking up.
Frederick will look to senior Gabe Porto to take the reins as the team's new No. 1 this season, followed by sophomores Brittany Mezhir and Madison Lindsay, who move from doubles to singles this year.
"We had 18 girls come out this year, which is really encouraging," Frederick said. "We're a little young, but we're hoping to build off our singles players."
The Lancers turnaround started on the right foot this season, when they beat Niagara Falls in their first match.
The Spartans lost nine seniors from last year's team, which finished 5-5 in its first year in ECIC II after moving up from ECIC III, leaving eighth-year coach Jesse Smith with a young roster he says is rebuilding nicely.
Leading the youth movement are singles players Paulina Masailo (first singles, ninth grade), Jasmine Mott (second, eighth) and Gillian Mangani (third, ninth). First doubles teammates Jen Pell and Amanda Grant are both juniors, and the only seniors in the top seven are second doubles pairing Kay Siracuse and Alicia Sherk.
"We have some young girls who are playing extremely well," Smith said. "I expect us to competitive if we work hard."