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Inexperienced Gateway girls tennis team to rely on ’determination, ‘sprit’

September 27, 2018
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As the elder stateswoman and the only senior on the Gateway girls tennis team, Kyah Russell has placed a great deal of responsibility on her shoulders for the 2018 season.

A four-year starter, Russell hopes the young group of players can continue to improve through the fall, especially in the challenging Section 1-AAA matches.

“As a captain, I want to display a positive attitude and help them improve,” Russell said. “Even though some of them are new to the game, they are learning and getting better each day. I am encouraged by the determination and spirit this team has.”

Russell ascended to the No. 1 singles spot after the graduation of Abby Herman. Last year, Russell made it to the second round of the section singles tournament before falling to WPIAL qualifier Hannah Yan from Franklin Regional.

Russell also teamed with Herman at the section doubles tournament.

First-year coach Kenny Nieser said Russell has been a stabilizing force.

“Kyah is a fantastic leader,” Nieser said. “She’s quiet, but that’s OK. She leads by example. She’s also a very high achiever and is one of the best students in the whole school.

“She has played a little more relaxed in recent matches. She has the capability of beating a better player than she’s played so far.”

Russell split her first four matches. After falling in matches against Baldwin and Armstrong, she came back with victories against Connellsville and Kiski Area.

Also returning with experience in the varsity lineup is junior Emma Dilts at No. 2 singles.

Freshman newcomer Samantha Dilts and returning sophomore Sriletha Sapram have shared time at No. 3 singlesthis season. Whoever is not playing at No. 3 singles, Nieser said, will bump down to No. 1 doubles with sophomore Laylo Tukhtamuradova or junior Alexis Beinhauer.

Beinhauer also figures into the mix at No. 2 doubles, along with sophomores Marina Tiwold and freshman Neha Gurlapati.

“With such a young team, we are rebuilding and building the lineup,” Nieser said. “We’ve seen improvement, but some are so inexperienced, the whole year is about effort and just getting better skills. Tennis is not an easy game. It’s a game where you have to acquire skills to succeed. It’s hard to pick up immediately.”

Gateway started the season 0-4 overall and 0-3 in section matches. The matches against Armstrong and Connellsville were 3-2 losses.

Nieser took over the coaching duties from Rochelle Seilhamer, who stepped down after nine seasons.

Seilhamer will remain the coach of the boys.

Nieser arrived at Gateway with an extensive coaching background. He is an instructor with the Rashid Hassan Elite Tennis Academy at Edgewood Country Club.

He said he knows of some of the top players in the section as they train at the academy, including 2017 Section 1 singles runner-up Addison Kemerer, a sophomore at Latrobe.

Nieser also served as girls tennis coach at Ellis School, Oakland Catholic and Knoch and was a boys assistant at North Allegheny and Upper St. Clair.

Nieser, who recently retired as reservist in the U.S. Navy, coached Ellis to a WPIAL championship and helped the NA and USC boys teams to WPIAL titles.

Latrobe is the defending section champion, with Norwin, Franklin Regional and Hempfield also WPIAL AAA playoff qualifiers from last year.

Gateway will play the other eight section teams once, and the top four teams from each of the four AAA sections will qualify for the WPIAL tournament.

Gateway was scheduled to host Penn Hills in a nonsection match last Friday, past the deadline for this week’s edition. The Gators host section foes Penn-Trafford and Hempfield on Thursday and Monday, respectively, before the section singles tournament Sept. 12 and 13 at Franklin Regional.

“I just want the girls to get out there, keep playing, compete hard and continue to learn and get better,” Nieser said. “I’m not worrying too much about the (team and individual) wins and losses right now, although the wins are nice. Effort and attitude on the court are what’s most important.”

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