By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
In tennis, seven players -- three in singles and four in doubles -- are needed to put a full team on the court.
And while most coaches have few problems putting together a competitive singles lineup, finding the right personnel to play doubles has usually been a different story.
That likely won't be the case for several teams this year, as the 2013 Heartland Athletic Conference girls tennis season got underway Monday afternoon.
Even though Class AAA Williamsport is once again considered to be the strong favorite to claim the Division I crown this year, several teams are expected to be nipping at the Millionaires' heels by the time the season is over.
Milton is one of them. The Black Panthers, who are under the tutelage of Aaron Slusser for perhaps the final time, have five girls fighting it out for the top three singles spots.
Three 2012 Daily Item All-Stars -- Leah Tillinghast, Hunter Metzger, Alaina Houtz -- will take the court for Milton this season. Two others -- Julia Spear and Jenna Bowersox -- were second-team selections on The Daily Item team.
"This year we have a good group of returning players with varsity experience....and some very athletic newcomers," said Slusser, who is expected to step away from the program after the fall. "I expect us to be competitive in all of our matches. It definitely hurts when you lose your top two singles players from the previous season (Megan Rudloff and Dana Kyle), but the girls are ready to step up and fill those positions.
"Leah is our top returning player (she played 3rd singles last year), and she will take over the No. 1 position," added Slusser.
At Selinsgrove, coach Duke Fravel has a big team with a total of 26 players on the roster, with senior Sara Moyer manning the No. 1 singles spot. Moyer is also a returning Daily Item First Team All-Star.