Defending NFL champs want to keep legacy
By David Yarger
Niagara-Wheatfield girls tennis coach Kristin Janese always says year in and year out, "I want to improve off of last season's record." This year, that's tough to do, because her squad last season went 14-0. Nevertheless, she hopes for much of the same in 2018.
The team has started right where it left off: 4-0, and in dominating fashion each match. Janese understood there could be pressure to keep the history going as defending Niagara Frontier League champs.
"There's always pressure returning as champs," Janese said. "When you had an undefeated season there's pressure to keep that record, and they know that if they slip up they feel like everyone will look at them like they're are little weaker. But there is pressure. Everyone has a target on their back."
Janese added that being one of the top teams in the league just means each team in the league will want to give it their all to try and upset the team.
The Falcons came into the season with high hopes and some new and familiar faces.
Most notably, they're without first singles player Lila Trunzo, who graduated in the spring. Trunzo was a First Team All-NFL honoree and went 12-2 in matches.
"(She was) a great No. 1 on and off the court. But the good news about the team that just left us as seniors and are now in college is they did a great job taking every other player under their wings and building them up to have that same confidence and have that same leadership, so those girls that came up underneath her and are replacing her (have) really tough shoes to fill, but our girls are up for that challenge and they knew what to expect," Janese said.
Returning to the team is Nicole Guldin, who was a second singles player last year as a junior. Guldin was a Second Team All-NFL honoree and finished her season 13-0 in matches. Guldin has moved up to the first singles role that was occupied by Trunzo last season. In her first four matches, Guldin has a 3-1 record, and is 46-21 in games. Janese said Guldin's game has grown, but transitioning from second to first singles is difficult.
"Nicole puts a lot of pressure on herself and expects a lot from herself," Janese said. "Her transition to first I think has taken her a little bit of time to gain that confidence, but every match she's played, she gets more and more confident and she's growing mentally and physically in all of them. So I think she's learning the differences of what she needs to be as a player between first and second singles."
Also returning for the Falcons is All-NFL First Team first doubles pair Jocelyn Fike and Nikki Kwiatkowski. The duo went 14-0 last season and never lost a set. That effort has carried over to 2018, as the pairing is 4-0 and yet to lose a set.
Junior Mackenzie Patterson has taken over the second singles role and is 4-0 this season; Kailie Malinowski, Katelyn Stojanovski and Katelyn Hoover have split time at third singles; and Stojanovski, Sydney Crangle, Anastasia Mohilewsky, Elise Ellis and Gabriela Greene have seen time in second doubles.
Janese is also blessed with 23 girls on the roster - rare depth that isn't seen on many other NFL girls tennis teams. She said it's a good problem to have and girls who might have been waiting for their opportunity in years past will get it this year.
Janese has had good teams in the past, but this year she said her team's experience is something that's quite unique.
"The experience we have is an advantage over a lot of the other teams. ... They really do believe that being a strong team makes the individual stronger, as well. They know that every second they step on the court in practice and in a match, they're earning something, they're working towards becoming better on and off the court and I think that's a very unique personality for a team to have, especially 23 girls - it's hard to get three girls to get along in a room," Janese said.
Janese added the girls love is tennis, and said while waiting for the bus for away matches, girls will play tennis in the parking lot, using a guard rail as the net.
"They can't put the racket down," she said. "They love it - they have a passion for tennis."
The Falcons' next match is at 4:15 today versus Kenmore East.