Will this be the season the Porter-Gaud girls claim the spotlight in SCISA tennis?
Ashley Hall has owned that recognition the last three years behind the sparkling play of Jamie Harrell and Patricia Kirkland, who have combined to win the last three Lowcountry player of the year awards. But Kirkland has taken her game to the college ranks, just as Harrell moved into college tennis last year.
That leaves an opening for Porter-Gaud senior standout Mi'Kola Cooper to possibly take her team to the top of SCISA Class AAA after the Cyclones' back-to-back losses to Ashley Hall in state championship matches.
Coach Brian Burke's Porter-Gaud outfit also has All-Lowcountry junior Annie Hay as well as senior Carissa Steichen. After that, much will depend on how quickly freshmen Grace Robards and Lexie Steichen, and seventh-grader Ann Martin Skelly adjust to the competition of playing in SCISA's top tennis region.
The cupboard isn't exactly bare for coach Mary Gastley's Ashley Hall outfit. Kirkland is now in her first year at Washington & Lee, but All-Lowcountry junior Narni Summerall should be among the area's elite players. As usual, the Panthers are deep. Sophomore year-around tennis player Courtney Geiss has made the biggest move for Ashley Hall, jumping up three spots in the lineup to No. 2 ahead of older and more experienced part-time tennis players Margaret Legerton and Rossi Anastopoulo.
Legerton, a senior, splits her time with soccer, while junior Anastopoulo plays both basketball and soccer.
"It's hard to replace a Patricia Kirkland," said Gastley as she begins her 25th season at the prestigious downtown all-girls school. "The lineup is not the same without her . . . a tremendous loss. But I feel we should be pretty solid all the way down the lineup."
The first big showdown in local SCISA will come Sept. 27 when Ashley Hall visits the Porter-Gaud courts.
But perhaps, the winner of these early struggles won't count nearly as much as their last confrontation. Porter-Gaud was unbeaten in SCISA heading into last year's state title match.
Pinewood Prep, with Bryant McKee in his second season, should be a good test for the two Charleston powerhouses, and Gastley stresses that Hilton Head Prep may be ready to make a move with "a good young team."
The popular Charleston Pro Tennis League kicks off its ninth season next Friday with a 6:30 p.m. program at Family Circle Tennis Center. With a four-team league this year, the CPTL will showcase a pair of three doubles/one singles team matches the next seven Friday nights. The rest of the schedule is Sept. 16 at I'On Club, Sept. 23 at Pine Forest Country Club, Sept. 30 at LTP Tennis, Oct. 7 at Family Circle Tennis Center, Oct. 14 at Wild Dunes and Oct. 21 the CPTL championships at Charleston Tennis Center.
--Charleston's Brenda Carter, the No. 1 singles and doubles player in the world in women's 65, will represent the USTA at the 34th ITF Super-Seniors World Team Championships Oct. 10-15 in Antalya, Turkey.
--Registration is open for Charleston Tennis Center's Junior Team Tennis League, which begins play Sept. 30. Contact Peggy Bohne at 766-7401.
--Former Clemson standout Ryan Young is back training after shoulder surgery and expects to begin competition on the pro satellite circuits by October, according to Family Circle pro Bryan Minton.
--The deadline for forming teams for the LCTA fall league tennis season is Sept. 16.
Reach James Beck at email@example.com. See his columns on pro tennis at ubitennis.com/english.