Parkland Press

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PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERB Parkland's Shelby Knafo is one of the team's top seniors leaders this year. PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERB Parkland's Shelby Knafo is one of the team's top seniors leaders this year.
PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERB Rachel Wong (above) and teammate Shelby Knafo (left) teamed up to win a decisive doubles match against Emmaus last week. PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERB Rachel Wong (above) and teammate Shelby Knafo (left) teamed up to win a decisive doubles match against Emmaus last week.

Lady Trojan tennis tops Emmaus

Thursday, September 11, 2014 by CHUCK HIXSON Special to the Press in HS Sports

In many ways, the Parkland and Emmaus tennis teams are very similar this season. Both were hit hard by graduation and both are trying to develop some talented young players and remain competitive this season. When the two teams matched up, the result was a four-and-a-half hour match that saw Parkland come away with a 4-3 win that was decided when the two teams had to put their top players on the court for a doubles match to decide the outcome.

What set the two teams apart was the play of the Parkland seniors, who played big roles in winning key matches and providing leadership that the rest of the team could rely on.

In the final match, seniors Shelby Knafo and Rachel Wong downed Emmaus' Michelle Gunn and Elise VanOrmer 6-7, 6-0, 6-2. Knafo also picked up a 6-1, 6-3 win in number two singles to help Parkland's cause.

"We said at the beginning that it was going to be hard-fought and we expected it to be tight and it was tight," said Parkland coach Michael Hingston. "Rachel Wong, Kamee Mitra and Velika D'Souza, they're our seniors and they've all done a great job and, in fact, they all won today. I said to the kids, this is a great day for our senior leaders, because they all won in tough, important matches."

D'Souza wasn't only battling her opponent across the net, she wasn't feeling well and had to play at less than 100 percent. She won her singles match over Gunn 6-3, 7-5, avoiding a third set on a hot, sunny day. Being weakened physically, there's no telling whether D'Souza would have been able to withstand another set.

"She wasn't feeling well and she really gutted it out," said Hingston. "She really had to make sure she won that second set, because in the third set, who knows? We would be having a different conversation now. That really was an important win, because she was struggling physically and it was a tough match for her and she just had to gut it out and sometimes, you have to do that."

Knafo has been providing leadership both on the court and off this season, helping to show the younger players the ropes as the team battles through the season. In past years, Knafo was on teams that were simply dominant and rolled through the schedule while barely breaking a sweat. This season, it's a little different, but Knafo has adapted to the new way of life and is helping her teammates to do the same.

"I think it's actually really good," said Knafo. "We have a young team, so we have to train them, but we still have a competitive level.

"Last year we dominated and this is teaching us how to play differently. We've only got two losses and that's not bad at all. We did lose our undefeated streak, but it's just making us work that much harder."

"She's a coach's dream as far as a leader and a senior captain," said Hingston of Knafo's role with the team. "Everything I've asked her to do from day one, she's done, and then some.

"You can tell talking to her for five minutes what a great kid she is and that's how she conducts herself day-in and day-out, whether it's practice, whether it's a match. Stepping up in a match like today and teaming up with Rachel [Wong] to seal the win, that's the kind of thing you look for in senior leadership and she's the epitome of it. So, you can't ask for more."

Knafo is impressed with how the younger players are developing and believes they're getting stronger and better as the season goes on, giving the Lady Trojans more confidence late in the season.

"They're doing really well," he said. "They're improving a lot and we've been doing pretty well this season. In the beginning, it was really difficult. We had a lot of close matches, but I think we're getting used to it now and we're gaining confidence and we're just trying to improve."