It’s been a banner year for the Council Rock South girls tennis team. The Golden Hawks rewrote the athletic history books on Rock Way, one might say.
CR South captured both District One 3A and PIAA crowns in team play, toppling Conestoga in both tournaments.
The Hawks ousted District Three champion New Oxford 3-1 in the PIAA semifinal, with Michelle Lerman (6-2, 7-5) winning her singles match and Kim Chen and Emma Traktovenko (6-4, 6-4) and freshman Ava Bograd and sophomore Elizabeth Krachik (6-1, 6-2) winning in doubles.
In the final vs. Conestoga, senior Dasha Chichkina (7-5, 6-2) – the District One 3A singles runner-up – and sophomore Lerman (6-1, 7-6) prevailed in singles while sophomore Chen and senior Traktovenko were victorious in doubles, 6-3, 6-4.
“We had a stronger team this year and we had a lot more confidence,” explained junior Anya Zubenko, who plays third singles. “We had the potential to go further in states last year too but I feel like we grew from that experience and stepped it up.
“We just felt like more of a team this year.”
South took third place in districts last year while falling in the state quarterfinals so the reaction from the Golden Hawks was quite dramatic when the group captured the state championship this time around, according to head coach Eric Scholl.
“They were ecstatic; it was like we won the World Series,” said Scholl. “They all ran off the court. We made it to (the top of) the podium; It was very exciting.”
Inexperience played a factor in the outcome last year, the coach said.
“Last year, it was a new experience for a lot of these girls and I think we were a little bit like deer in the headlights. I wouldn’t say we were scared but definitely tentative.
“This year, they were ready.
“This year, they went out there with a mission and made sure that didn’t happen again. They were not playing with any fear. It wasn’t new to them anymore.”
Council Rock South went unbeaten (21-0) this season, defeating Academy Park, West Chester Henderson, Wissahickon and Conestoga to take the top prize in districts.
“When we beat Conestoga (in district finals), I feel like we had a good chance that we could actually win states,” explained Lerman. “They’re two-time state champions.”
In states, the Hawks topped District Three rival Hempfield and District Seven foe North Allegheny before outpacing New Oxford and Conestoga in the last two rounds.
“All of us were more focused and we were all determined to win,” added Lerman.
In postseason doubles play, Lerman and Zubenko teamed up, capturing a District One trophy and a runner-up medal in states.
In districts, the duo defeated Radnor seniors Emma Fox and Sophie Carter, 6-1, 6-2 before outpacing Conestoga players Melissa Fan and Sofia Calvitti, 6-3, 6-0. In the quarterfinals, they faced their own teammates Chen and Traktovenko, who eliminated doubles teams from Abington and Unionville to get there. In the end, Lerman and Zubenko prevailed, 6-2, 6-4.
To obtain District One gold, the duo emerged victorious against Conestoga seniors Kate Emmanuel and Jennifer He, 6-2, 6-3. Emmanuel and He are the second and third singles players, respectively, for the Pioneers.
In states, Lerman and Zubenko outpaced doubles teams from Oakland Catholic, Manheim Township and Parkland before facing Spring-Ford seniors Mia Matriccino and Evelyn Mejia in a hotly contested PIAA finale.
Matriccino and Mejia took the state title in straight sets but needed to win a tiebreaker to take the initial set in the championship matchup. Ironically, the CR South duo outpaced the Spring-Ford team in straight sets in District One semifinals.
Meanwhile in singles postseason play, Chichkina captured a runner-up medal in districts while taking third in states. Dasha was outpaced by Unionville senior Grace Li – the state singles champion both this year and last – in the district final while falling to Central Mountain freshman Addison Lindsey in state semifinals. To her credit, Chichkina bounced back in a battle for third place after dropping the first set to Liberty junior Helena Lynn.
“Focus is never a problem for Dasha,” stated Scholl. “She doesn’t like to lose and it doesn’t matter if she’s playing a fourth-place match, a third-place match or the championship, she competes the same way – 110 percent.”
The senior captain this year, Chichkina has led the Hawks for the past four seasons. In her inaugural campaign on Rock Way, she teamed up with Traktovenko in doubles and the duo made it all the way to the District One 3A final after outdueling Pennsbury for the SOL Patriot doubles crown.
In the 2021 District One singles tournament, she won her first three matches in straight sets to earn a berth in the quarterfinals, finishing fourth in both districts and states.
Last year, she convinced Lerman and Chen to join the Golden Hawks and the influx of talent was enough to tilt the team toward states.
“Me and Kim, we joined the team without knowing that we would actually go far,” explained Lerman. “Dasha said we should join and that she sees the potential that this team has.”
With plenty of PIAA tournament-seasoned players returning next year, South seems to be set, at least for the near future with only Chichkina and Traktovenko graduating.
“Losing Dasha, that’s a huge loss. You don’t replace a Dasha but we have enough talent on the back end – we have depth now,” explained Scholl. “We’re still pretty strong with Michelle (Lerman) at number one and we have players who can fill in if we move everybody up so we’re still going to be pretty good.”
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