The 2018 season was most certainly a transitional one for the Elizabethtown Area High School girls tennis team. After losing five of their top six players to graduation the year before, the Lady Bears had to reload with a largely inexperienced group of athletes, which led to growing pains. The team ultimately finished 3-11, second-to-last in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. No one from the roster made much of a dent in the league flight tournaments either.
This year could be much different. Elizabethtown saw just two seniors, Emily Louie and Tori Pollock, graduate, though they were No. 2 and No. 3 in the pecking order, respectively. Offsetting their departures is the sudden influx of potential replacements; 31 players attended the team’s informational meeting in spring, 20 of them new. That’s a huge increase over last season’s roster, which had 14 players.
While the newfound growth of the team is great for the Lady Bears, head coach Brenda McBride is now faced with a problem she hasn’t had to deal with in a long time: cutting players. When she first began coaching for Elizabethtown, McBride initially accepted any player who was interested in joining team, regardless of skill or experience.
However, after back-to-back seasons of 30-plus players on the roster, she decided to institute a limit of 24 players, citing the lack of one-on-one time she and the rest of the coaching staff could give. Seniors who did not earn a spot in the top 10 on the ladder (the top six play in varsity matches) would also be cut. Now, with those policies potentially back in play this season, all of the Lady Bears are putting in double the effort in open gyms and team practices.
“They have worked their tails off this year,” McBride said. “A lot of them have taken lessons and attended camps. It’s been fun this summer to see how much the girls are working, and there are some really good athletes who are coming out that already have a good foundation of tennis. We have room to grow, and I think the cutting has actually been a good thing for motivation.”
With a ton of new players in the fold, and 11 girls returning from 2018, the Lady Bears could be in for a similar rise to their male counterparts, who won a Section Two title in the spring. The comparisons aren’t perfect; McBride noted that the boys had enough depth and talent to go on the run they did. But after rebuilding in 2018, the girls will be aiming to get stronger as well.
Losing Louie and Pollock will hurt. The former was a vocal team captain and is set to join the women’s tennis team at York College. The latter finished with Elizabethtown’s best singles record at 9-6. However, the Lady Bears will be hoping to fill that void with a host of rising talent.
“We’re losing experience and leadership, but we’re gaining so much natural athleticism,” McBride said. “I feel like most of those girls will be able to fill in the gaps. We might not have as strong of a No. 2 and 3 like Emily and Tori, but it’ll be pretty close. Everybody from last year has improved, and a lot of these new girls will be vying for spots to earn points for the team. We just see how everything falls into place.”
Senior Lauren Masser is back as the team’s No. 1 in singles. She struggled record-wise last season with a 2-11 record, though not for a lack of trying. Masser was competitive in the majority of her matches and should only have a better chance to succeed this time around. After all, it is her fourth varsity season.
“It’s been great to watch her because it hasn’t come easy for her,” McBride said. “Lauren’s been playing since she was very young, and she’s had to really work hard over the years to develop. She’s matured into a really nice tennis player. The No. 1 spot is tough because every team has one good player, but I’m thinking she’ll get more wins there this season.”
The rest of the lineup is flexible, though the other three returning varsity players should be in the mix. Senior Katy Hackenburg was No. 4 for the Lady Bears in 2018; she went 2-7 in singles and 4-10 in doubles alongside Louie in the No. 2 spot. Senior Araya Fahnestock and junior Mia Giordano served as the No. 3 doubles team as well; the former also got brief singles action, going 1-2 overall. It was the first varsity experience for all three girls, which should serve them well for the future.
“Those first-year nerves are killer,” McBride said. “Katy was so nervous to play last season, but I think she’ll come out with a lot more confidence thanks to that experience. And Araya has worked her tail off this summer. Any court time is key.”
The only other player with varsity time coming back for the Lady Bears is senior Anna Bert, though they do have three juniors (Grace Cairns, McKenna Smith and Kara Young) and three sophomores (Alexis June, Sophie Mize and Alexis Vera) returning too. Among the players new to the squad, seniors Kate Weissend and Elizabeth Nyveldt have stood out in the offseason, as have sophomores Allison Evans and Rylee Bender. Competition will be tight when challenge matches come along.
“I have no idea where they’re gonna fall in the ladder until they play each other,” McBride said. “Sometimes it can be a slow process getting them there, but it’s different when you work with solid athletes who have natural movement and timing. Once I can teach them how to hit, they’ll improve quickly.”
If everything comes together, Elizabethtown may be able to rise up the ranks in Section Two. Reigning champ Lampeter-Strasburg saw nine seniors graduate at the end of last season, and the rest of the top four (Manheim Central, Cocalico and Garden Spot) also took losses. In the end though, the Lady Bears’ main goal is to just be better than 2018. Bringing back the comparisons to the boys, they went 7-9 in their first season under McBride in 2018 before winning the section last year. If the girls can do something similar this year, they’ll be well on the way for the next couple of seasons.
“I just want everyone to keep improving,” McBride said. “They need to have a solid foundation of good tennis fundamentals, like technique, footwork, grip and stance. When they come out and practice on their own, they’re just gonna keep getting better from there. I feel like so many of them are already there. Once the consistency comes, we can gradually add power and placement. For the returning players, it’s getting them depth and confidence in their shots, and for the new players, it’s the fundamentals to build on for the future so they can carry the team next year.”