NEW FRANKLIN Manchester is coming off back-to-back 11-9 seasons and is looking to repeat its success on the tennis court this fall and make history in the process.
For the first time in the programs history, the Panthers will compete in a conference as they are now affiliated with the 10-team Northeast Tennis (NET) conference. Other members include Canton McKinley, Massillon, Orrville, Triway and Canton South.
Fourth-year head coach Bob Irwin believes the conference affiliation will produce challenging competition for his squads this season.
"Even though we had a winning record last year, we were 0-5 versus teams from the NET," Irwin said. "We know entering the NET will be a challenge and we are ready to take it on. I expect our girls to always compete and focus to the best of their abilities. Our goal is to focus on what we control, effort, attitude and learning, and let the wins/losses will take care of themselves.
For Irwin, the transition to the conference will be somewhat eased by the return of a veteran club featuring 10 letter-winners.
Among the returnees are seniors Brittany Alterio, Chloe Ambriola, Olivia Farrell, Kaylee Garman, Allie Goble, Kayleigh Harbour and Lydia Marek; juniors Brooke Esterle and Anna Rector; and sophomore Katrina Bell.
"We have had several players play, and improve over the winter," Irwin said. "The ones that worked the most this winter were Katrina (Bell), Brooke (Esterle) and Anna (Rector). I expect that group to contribute a lot to our varsity lineup."
He noted that Farrell, Goble, Harbour and Hannah Collier all saw noticeable growth during the summer and believes that depth - especially in doubles matches - should be a valuable asset, especially due to the graduation losses from one year ago, which include the doubles team of Trudie Christy and Erika Bell, who were district qualifiers.
The squad’s newcomers include Courtney Carpenter, Tess Christy, Katie Clark, Jo Hamilton and Emily Le. Irwin described the group - and the roster overall - as having "by far the most potential that we have had join the team in my four seasons."
With 25 players on the roster, Manchester should be able to be more competitive in tournaments and dual matches.
One advantage the Panthers won’t have is its own home court, as they lost the use of Boettler Park in Green due to the reduction of courts at the park. Irwin expressed his gratitude toward Barberton Athletic Director John Sabol and tennis coach Ann Lynch, who have donated use of their facilities in the offseason.
Manchester will once again compete at the Division II level and will participate in sectional tournament action at Harvard/Stadium Park in Canton. Irwin and second-year assistant coach Brad LeHoty are eager to see the team take shape and figure out just how much further they can go the season.