Liberty sophomore girls tennis player Victoria Ferry ended last season with a trip to the district tournament in Canton.
Ferry, who was unseeded last season, made a couple of upsets along the way to make it out of the Boardman Sectional. The top four singles players advanced to Canton.
''I didn't think it would get as far as it did, especially because of the people I had to play. I was really happy I did,'' Ferry said.
But, Ferry, who will most likely be the Leopards No. 1 singles player, said nothing is a given coming off a phenomenal run her freshman season.
''It definitely boosts my confidence up some, but I know I still have to work at it. It's not as easy as you would think,'' she said.
Enter seniors Allison Aremeni and Pooja Kwatra, both three-year letterwinners.
''I do have high expectations for both of my seniors, who are both three-year returning lettermen,'' said Liberty coach Jimmy Leslie, whose team starts practice on Aug. 10.
Leslie, whose team plays its home matches at the Jewish Community Center, said he has a way of seeding the seven girls who will play on the varsity squad - three singles players and two doubles teams.
''I do a fair system where I have the girls play each other. Based off of a kind of a round-robin tournament, that's where they fall in line - one through seven,'' he said. ''I would assume Victoria would be No. 1. Anyone would have a chance. Allison is very good and so is Pooja. I don't know how much they've been practicing in the offseason. But if they have been, I definitely think they could push Victoria. We could say Victoria would be No. 1 based off of last year.''
But, there's a slim possibility Ferry could be beaten out for the team's top seed.
''Anything is possible. I can't really say,'' Ferry said of the two seniors. ''They're really dedicated. We'll see what happens.''
Liberty also has a strong freshman class entering, led by Vittoria Vaturi. Liberty lost 12 seniors from last year's team.
''That's going to take a hard hit on our team. But I'm going to set expectations high for incoming freshman,'' Leslie said. ''I've got four spots available on our team. There are only three spots that are secured out of seven. I'm expecting a couple of freshmen to come in and compete for those.''
Liberty won last year's All-American Conference lower tier title. The Leopards compete with Lakeview, Salem, Brookfield and Struthers for the title. Canfield, Howland, Poland, Niles and Beaver Local are in the upper tier. Liberty plays everyone in the lower tier twice, while playing teams in the upper tier once.
''Since we've moved into the All-American Conference, it's been a good thing for smaller schools like ourselves, Lakeview and Salem,'' Leslie said. ''In our tier we have a chance to compete against other teams that are more equal to us than going against the Canfields, Polands and Howlands all the time. With the new conference, at the beginning of every season, I always have high expectations that we'll be competing for the championship.''
As you can tell, tennis is not as much as an individual sport at the high school level.
''It's a team sport,'' Leslie said. ''That's where your wins and losses come from, the teams. You might have one outstanding player, but you can go 1-4 and lose every other match. I'm very fortunate that my No. 1 singles is one of those phenomenal players. It really doesn't become individual until tournament time.''
Having competition for the No. 1 spot and having a player like Ferry can hurt or help, depends on how it's utilized to benefit the team, Leslie said.
''It can be good where it thrives competition,'' he said. ''Also as a coach, it could be very bad. If you have a superstar, you're expected to win. You could have a superstar and she could win every single match, but if you lose your other four matches, you'll be 0-20. Sometimes when you have somebody of Victoria's caliber, it my job as a coach, to keep the team motivated and not rely on Victoria and say, 'Hey, we're going to win.' That's not the case. Victoria might go out and win, but us as a team need to focus on everything else.
''As much as it can help you thriving competition, it can hurt you too.''
As a team, Liberty is seeking another AAC lower tier title.
''I think we have a bunch of good players,'' Ferry said. ''I think we can try to win our conference against, but there's a lot of competition. We'll see. It's not an easy conference we have. I'm hoping we'll do good again like last year.''