TOWAMENCIN >> North Penn girls tennis coach Kristina Alling couldn’t believe the length of the program’s league title drought when she heard it earlier this year.
It had been 23 years since the Knights had last captured a conference crown. It had been, until Thursday afternoon.
Paced by a doubles sweep and another excellent outing from freshman No. 1 singles Neha Velaga, North Penn defeated Pennridge 6-1 to finish SOL Continental play undefeated and the conference’s champions.
“It’s really exciting because it’s been so long,” Knights senior Sarah Tung, part of the unbeaten No. 3 doubles team, said. “We worked really hard as a team this season.”
It wasn’t an easy task, as the Knights had to face the Central Bucks triangle all on the road. But after taking on Central Bucks South and Central Bucks East last week and winning both, the goal was practically upon them.
However, the Knights couldn’t overlook the Rams. An upset would have left their fate in the hands of tiebreakers, something North Penn was determined to avoid. While junior Sabrina Palmer, half of the No. 4 doubles team, said there’s always some nervousness going into matches, the team was confident on Thursday.
“After we beat East, we knew we could accomplish anything,” junior Sarah Stavely, the other half of No. 4 doubles, said.
The No. 3 and 4 doubles teams, along with Velaga, are all undefeated this season. For the No. 3 pairing, junior Olivia Hauser said it’s due to the way she and Tung complement each other on the court, one excelling at baseline play, the other strong at the net.
Velaga had another tough matchup on Thursday, going up against Pennridge junior Ylan Phan. The Knights’ No. 1, who also hadn’t dropped a set all season, kept that streak alive in a 6-0, 6-0 victory.
Getting through league play without a blemish is quite the accomplishment but Velaga isn’t any ordinary player. Already a highly touted prospect, Velaga was still a little taken aback by her accomplishments so far.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Velaga said. “I’ve just kind of played my game and not worried about the opponent at all. I wasn’t expecting anything, I just wanted to have fun and win as many matches as I could.”
The No. 3 singles match between North Penn sophomore Elise Hurry and Rams senior Victoria Harris was a compelling one as Hurry rallied from down 5-4 to win a 7-6 tiebreaker in the first set, then took the match with a 6-1 second set victory.
North Penn’s No. 1 doubles team of senior Erin Hurry and sophomore Felicia Yan took their match 6-0, 6-4 while the No. 2 pairing of sophomore Jess Szuchan and Madhu William won 6-3, 6-3. Coupled with a 6-1, 6-0 win for Hauser and Tung and a 6-0, 6-0 win for Palmer and Stavely, it was a clean sweep for the doubles.
“Every team works really well together and that’s why we have such good balance,” Hauser said.
“We really practiced it and perfected it,” Stavely said. “We all worked really hard over the summer to get where we are now.”
Even practicing against each other has helped the doubles pairings to get better through the course of the season.
“We all have really good communication and relationships with our partners,” Palmer said. “We really know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are.”
Even having a roster permeated with sophomores, juniors and a freshman, the Knights felt early on they had the makeup to contend for a league title. An early season match at Central Bucks West, which the Knights won, was a turning point for many of the players, including Hasuer and Tung.
Tung said they trailed in their first set, but rallied back to win a tiebreaker and then the match and it gave them a shot in the arm for the rest of the year.
Likewise, Palmer said she and Stavely figured out early they meshed well and if they ran into issues in a match, they would be able to work them out just by communicating. That helped them when they turned out to be the deciding point in the CB East match and came through.
“It was a lot of pressure but we communicated our way through it,” Palmer said.
The regular season is winding down, but the circuitous postseason is about to begin, Velaga will be the No. 1 seed for the SOL Continental singles championships next weekend and team, singles and doubles districts are nearing as well.
Aside from the talent, the Knights are a very close team and any player or doubles team that did drop a set during the season was met by teammates having their backs. Velaga said she’s gotten a lot of support from her teammates and has tried to give it back to them.
It was a long wait, but North Penn broke its league title drought. The next stage is making sure it isn’t 23 years until the next one.
“We had to stay focused and keep playing the way we had been playing,” Velaga said. “This match was important, but had to be focused. We were very excited. We had been looking forward to it.”
North Penn 6, Pennridge 1
Singles: 1.Neha Velaga (NP) d. Ylan Phan (P) 6-0, 6-0; 2. Katrina Janeczko (P) d. Karley Alling (NP) 6-1, 6-3; 3. Elise Hurry (NP) d. Victoria Hanus (P) 7-6, 6-1.
Doubles: 1.Erin Hurry and Felicia Yan (NP) d. Kaitlyn Harnes and Courtney Landis (P) 6-0, 6-4; 2. Jess Szuchan and Madhu William (NP) d. Aarathi Kallow and Emily Osborne (P) 6-3, 6-3; 3. Olivia Hauser and Sarah Tung (NP) d. Laurne Harries and Sam Tiedeken (P) 6-1, 6-0; 4. Sabrina Palmer and Sarah Stavely (NP) d. Lauren Scholer and Emma Boyajieff (P) 6-0, 6-0.