EAST ROCKHILL >> Winning a tennis match is as much mental as it is anything in terms of technique or ability.
North Penn thought it was going to have a bit of a rebuilding year this fall, but the new-look Knights didn’t play like it in their conference opener Thursday afternoon at Pennridge. Boosted by a sweep of doubles play, featuring four new pairings, North Penn took a 5-2 decision over the Rams.
With so many players in new spots in the lineup, the mental edge is a vital factor for North Penn.
“Tennis is such a mental game sometimes,” North Penn junior co-captain Felicia Yan said. “If you think your opponent is better than you, you’re almost halfway defeated. Having confidence in yourself really does help.”
Yan returned at No. 1 doubles but has a new partner this year in junior co-captain Karely Alling. The Knights have a deep team this year and once the initial lineup was decided on, Yan said the doubles teams played a lot of matches against each other, most of them very competitive, to build chemistry among the new pairs.
Knights coach Kristina Alling said it was a “nightmare” trying to sort out the lineup in tryouts and preseason but also pegged doubles as a potential strength for the team. While North Penn doesn’t have a true No. 1 ace singles player, Alling thinks her top doubles pairing can play with that kind of dominance.
“I feel like the better singles players will usually win, but you can coach doubles teams to help them win,” Kristina Alling said. “I tried to put the right players together and that’s the key. We have a really good No. 1 team, which I haven’t felt like we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Pennridge got wins from No. 1 and No. 2 singles, with junior Katrina Janeczko showing how much her work on the mental side of the game paid off in a 6-0, 6-0 win over North Penn’s Elise Hurry. Janeczko, who played No. 2 singles last season, played a lot over the summer and focused on adjusting to her opponent instead of just trying to power through matches.
“I worked more on changing up my strategy when it comes to the different people I’m playing,” Janeczko said. “When I play one person, I may have a different strategy than when I play a different person, depending on what their game is like. That’s something that seems obvious, but it didn’t really hit me until this summer and I learned that.”
North Penn started freshmen at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, with Pennridge senior Ylan Phan topping Lauren Alling at No. 2 and the Knights’ Brynn Janke defeating Rams senior Courtney Landis at No. 3.
The Knights’ doubles pairs didn’t have much trouble picking up wins in their matches. Alling and Yan won 6-3, 6-1, No. 2 pair Olivia Hauser and Madhu Willian won 6-0, 6-1 and No. 3 pairing Emily Gray and Samantha Tossou won 6-1, 6-1. The final pairing, which features senior Sabrina Palmer and sophomore Victoria Juckniewitz, picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win.
“Our team is super-deep and it lets us get some wins further down the lineup,” Karley Alling said. “Some of the partnerships are natural, people just gravitate toward each other and are able to work well together.”
North Penn, the defending Suburban One League Continental champion, will have its work cut out to repeat with CB East, South and West all having solid lineups but Karley Alling was confident the Knights have the talent on the roster to be right in the mix.
The Rams are hoping to be competitive in the conference as well and Janeczko liked the amount of competition she and her teammates had in the preseason. The junior said it was all positive competition, with players pushing each other for spots and she saw plenty of improvement in all the returning players from last year.
“One thing I always think of whenever I play a match and that our team does a good job of reminding each other of is don’t go down without a fight,” Janeczko said. “Even if you’re losing, don’t throw away the match because you’re losing, fight through it. Even if you end up losing, it’s better to have a good match where you know you fought as hard as you could then thinking ‘they’re better than us and we’re going to lose’.”
Figuring out the mental side of the game comes differently for every player. For Janeczko, it was slowing down between points and using that time to assess her opponent and make the adjustments that have her playing her best tennis in three years as a starting singles player.
“Last year it was a lot more difficult for me to deal with it and my freshman year, I almost couldn’t deal with it,” Janeczko said. “Last year, I started getting used to it and started playing matches better and this year, I think I’m the best I’ve been out of the three years.”
North Penn knows its doubles pairings will play a big role in the team’s success in SOL play this year. It may take a couple matches for everyone to get on the same page, but Thursday was a good start.
“We’re going to have to get wins all the way down our doubles pairs,” Karley Alling said. “The people who came back are the leaders on the team and they’ve been able to help the people who are with them or the players who are new to the team.”
NORTH PENN 5, PENNRIDGE 2
Singles: 1. Katrina Janeczko (P) def. Elise Hurry 6-0, 6-0; 2. Ylan Phan (P) def. Lauren Alling 6-1, 6-3; 3. Brynn Janke (NP) def. Courtney Landis 6-1, 6-1.
Doubles: 1. Karley Alling/Felicia Yan (NP) def. Lauren Harries/Blair Bower 6-3, 6-1; 2. Olivia Hauser/Madhu Willian (NP) def. Aarthi Kallur/Lauren Schuler 6-0, 6-1; 3. Emily Gray/Samantha Tossou (NP) def. Emma Boyntieff/Emily Doss 6-1, 6-1; 4. Sabrina Palmer/Victoria Juckniewitz (NP) def. Katie Romeo/Hailey Bennet 6-1, 6-1.