PHS aims for state tennis titles

PARKERSBURG – Great Expectations.

Not only is it required reading for high school English students, it’s an annual tradition with Parkersburg High School’s tennis program, which has contributed more state titles to the state’s winningest school than any other sport.

Considering the way the Big Reds dominated last week’s Region One tennis tournament at West Liberty, coach Pam Reeves and her athletes have every right to great expectations at this week’s Class AAA state tournament, set for Thursday through Saturday at the Watt Powell Annex in Charleston.

“Parkersburg High School has a long-standing tradition of tennis,” said Reeves. “We want that to continue.”

Although tennis is an individual sport, Reeves never stops emphasizing team. When her Big Red athletes aren’t participating in a match, you will find them encouraging their teammates.

“I learned a long time ago sports can be fun if you remember it is about the team,” said Reeves.

Or in Parkersburg’s case, two teams. Both the PHS boys and girls are contenders this week, not only for singles and doubles titles, but also for the team championships.

Start with the girls team, led by No. 1 singles player Cassandra Powell, who blitzed every one of her regional competitors.

“Cassandra has the determination to be excellent on every point,” said Reeves. “She is determined to be No. 1 at No. 1.”

No. 2 player Amber Kesterson suffered a semifinal loss to an opponent from University, but didn’t let that stop her from fighting her way back to the state tournament, where last year she was part of the Class AAA No. 3 doubles title team.

Freshman Sheridan White has been dominant at the No. 3 position, breezing through the regular season undefeated.

“Sheridan goes out and takes care of business,” Reeves said. “She plans to do the same at the state. She shows them this freshman came to play.”

In addition to three singles players, the Big Red girls also will be represented by all three of its doubles teams. Reeves said when Powell and Kesterson are playing their best, they are force with which few can reckon.

The No. 2 team of Katie Stanley and Katie Gnegy -referred to around the PHS camp as Katie Squared -is composed of two relentless competitors who fight for every point. Reeves has watched them battle back from deficits several times through their grit and determination.

While all doubles partners become close, perhaps no pair is as much so as Kristen Calebaugh and Jennifer Riffle, who have compiled a 38-0 record at No. 3. They are best friends both on and off the court. Both are seniors who want to go out on top.

Heading the Big Red boys team is No. 1 singles player Saaman Ghodsi. While he has taken some lumps during the season, he has elevated his game and risen to the occasion, as evidenced by his standout effort at the regional, where he took home the title.

No. 2 player Alexander D’Costa not only claimed a regional championship, but he has lost just once all season. He is a relentless competitor who plays intelligently and has worked hard to get stronger.

Reeves describes No. 3 player Tristram Spitsnaugle as the Big Reds’ energizer bunny. He runs down every shot and thus wears down his foes. Reeves says he wears holes in his shoes shortly after he gets them.

That also describes the playing style of No. 4 singles player Josh Roberts. Reeves describes him as a “human backboard. If it takes two shots or 22 for him to beat you on the point, he will do it.”

PHS not only won all four singles titles at the regional, but it also captured a pair of doubles titles as Ghodsi and D’Costa took honors at No. 1 and the No. 3 doubles team of Rhone Thrash and Landon Wells accomplished their goal of getting to the state, despite this being their first season of playing together.

Reeves expects George Washington and Huntington to be strong in the boys competition with Huntington and Hurricane providing the biggest challenges to the Big Red girls.

Parkersburg South will be represented at the state meet by a pair of singles players in the boys competition.

No. 1 player Brandon Galici was the runner-up to Ghodsi and No. 3 Grant Tebay finished second to Spitsnaugle.