Chestnut Hill College senior Danielle Knott is co-captain of the Griffins’ tennis team this season, along with junior Kelly Dennis. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Chestnut Hill College’s racquetwomen started their season last Saturday with a road trip to Molloy College on Long Island, but the long ride home was a happy one as the Griffins swept the non-conference match, 9-0.

Ranked second in the pre-season tennis poll for the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC), CHC returns almost all of its starting line-up from 2011. Actually, all of last year’s top six players are back on campus, but co-captain Danielle Knott has an injury that will keep her out of the line-up this fall. However, the Griffins do play some matches in the spring (when the major portion of the men’s season is scheduled), so the senior should see some action before her Chestnut Hill career ends.

CHC’s other co-captain, junior Kelly Dennis, opened the season at first singles, winning her debut 6-4, 6-3 last Saturday at Molloy. Having Dennis in the top spot makes CHC particularly formidable at the second position, since senior number two Nastia “The Minsk Marauder” Shcherbakova actually played first singles for the Griffins for several seasons. In last weekend’s 2012 opener at Molloy, she mauled the Lions’ number two, 6-0, 6-0.

There were also convincing victories in the other four singles bouts. Another CHC senior, Maria Parapouras, won two 6-1 sets at number three, and sophomore number four Morgan Oechsle sailed through, 6-1. 6-0. Also breezing through their matches were two talented freshmen, number five Iman Williams-Mulesa (6-1, 6-1) and Axe Owens (6-1, 6-0).

Williams-Mulesa comes from just north of Toronto and is a highly-regarded junior player in Ontario, while Owens is a graduate of New Jersey’s Pennington School. Although “Axe Owens” may sound like the name of a guitarist in a heavy metal band, her first name is pronounced “Ah-Shay,” and is likely spelled Axé,  although the college does not render it that way.

While Mulesa-Williams, Shcherbakova (from Belarus) and Parapouras (from Australia) provide the Griffins with an international flair, one returning racquetwoman comes from right around the corner. Sophomore Alexis Puhl grew up in Roxborough and is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls.

Returning junior Olivia Stevenson hails from Philadelphia, NY (up near the Canadian border) and in addition to the freshmen already mentioned, the rookie class includes Hayley Craskey, out of Cardinal O’Hara in Delaware County, and Leeann Burke, a Lancaster County native.

CHC opens its CACC season this week with matches against Northwest Philly rival Philadelphia University and New Jersey’s Caldwell College. The one team ranked above the Griffins in the pre-season conference poll was defending champ Concordia University (Bronxville, NY), whose starting line-up is made up entirely of foreign-born players.

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