High school girls' tennis is looking up for the fall season. It looks like this is going to be a don't-miss season.
Defending SCISA Class AAA champion Ashley Hall has one of its strongest lineups in recent years with star junior academy players Abby Cotuna and Meggie Navarro now on the Panthers' roster. Cotuna played for Berkeley the last two years and was an All-Lowcountry selection both years.
Ashley Hall coach Mary Gastley, in her 33rd season as coach at the downtown all-girls school, already had six regulars back from the 2018 state championship team in junior Kayla Kirkland, senior Lorna Milani, junior Ella Gray Settle, junior Marissa Dye, sophomore Jane Goldstein and senior Adelaide Harper.
Those six alone would have made the Panthers solid favorites to win a sixth state title in the last 13 years, but junior Cotuna and sophomore Navarro possibly might make the Panthers the area's best overall team.
Gastley said simply, "We are looking forward to a good year."
Ashley Hall posted a convincing 7-2 victory over 2018 Class AA SCHSL runner-up Oceanside Collegiate Academy earlier in the season as both Cotuna and Navarro scored easy victories in singles.
Don't overlook Bishop England
Don't count Bishop England coach Kristin Fleming Arnold's always strong team out of anything. The Bishops are going for their ninth consecutive state title. They lost No. 1 Eleanor Campbell and doubles specialist Crista Vroman from a team that went 14-0 last season while cruising to the SCHSL Class AAA title.
But the Bishops have everyone else back, including the Woods sisters, junior Lily and sophomore Izzy. Lily went 22-0 last season while playing on her fourth state championship tennis team. She is a basketball standout, as well.
The Bishops also have starters Jenna Santa Lucia and Mackenzie Penton back. As usual, the Bishops have a group of talented newcomers, including sophomore Elle Bredemann, seventh-grader Bella Nava and freshman Sydney Severance.
New coach at Wando
It's probably safe to say that Ashley Hall and Bishop England probably are the area's strongest teams, and among the best in the state, SCISA or SCHSL.
Next in the pecking order looks like 2018 SCHSL Class AAAAA runner-up Wando, which has a new coach in successful Wando boys coach Winde Ellenberg. Megan Hinton directed the Warriors to a 22-5 record in 2018.
The Warriors lost No. 2 Abby Sinclaire to graduation, and No. 1 Kelsey Sinclaire decided to concentrate on moving up the junior tennis ranks. But here comes another Sinclaire sister, young Megan Sinclaire is the new No. 1 for the Warriors.
Wando also has another standout pair of sisters in sophomore Lily and senior Ellie Zimmermann, who played Nos. 3 and 5 last season, respectively. Karson Powers and Ellie Rogers are also talented returnees.
Oceanside Collegiate Academy advanced all the way to the SCHSL Class AA state final last season. But the Landsharks lost their top three players to college tennis, including No. 1 Kat Lyman, the 2018 Lowcountry player of the year who will be playing college tennis for the Naval Academy. Emma Smith and Jill Morse also received college grants.
Coach Phil Whitesell's OCA team, nevertheless, will be dangerous since Academic Magnet and a young Phillip Simmons team are the other top Class AA teams locally. However, these three teams aren't likely to be in the class of defending state champion Christ Church from Greenville.
"Everyone is moving up positions. Some of my sophomores are stepping up," Whitesell said.
Porter-Gaud, as always, will be competitive, but probably not a serious challenger to Ashley Hall in SCISA.
"We have all the girls back from last year. We added several, as well," said P-G coach Charlotte Hartsock. "We are looking forward to a good season."
The Cyclones list 21 players on their roster.
Iron Horses still young
Richard Schulz is coaching a young Phillip Simmons girls team again.
"We are very young, and very good for our age," Schulz said.
"Sydney Mims (freshman) is back to her best form and is a force at No. 1. Her strong backhand wins games. Maddy Bolig at No. 2 just keeps getting better and never gives in, fights for every point," said Schulz, who directed the Iron Horses' boys team to the Class AA state title last spring.
"Next are Ansley Cohen, Amelia Whirrett, Olivia DeMarco, all eighth graders, back from last year and are so improved. Two new awesome seventh-grade girls, Breeze Simon and Izzie Johnson, are enthusiastic, and will both be unstoppable in the future," he added.