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Improved Lady Panthers enjoying fine season thus far

Senior Serenity Carolos is Middle Township's third singles player.

  • Senior Sophia Zheng plays at second doubles for the Middle Township girls tennis team.
  • Senior Lily Zuzulock competes at second doubles for the Middle Township girls tennis team.
  • Sophomore Fiona Coyle is a first doubles player for Middle Township.
  • Freshman Maria Sakoulas has taken over the top singles position in her debut season for the Middle Township girls tennis team.
  • Sophomore transfer Brenna Bussinger is Middle Township's second singles player.
  • Senior Rylee McFadden is a first doubles player for Middle Township.
  • Senior Serenity Carolos is Middle Township's third singles player.


Almost every high school sports season, there seems to be a team from the area that jumps forward and puts together an outstanding season somewhat unexpectedly.

Middle Township’s girls tennis team certainly falls into that category.

The Lady Panthers take a record of 8-1 into this afternoon’s match with rival Lower Cape May, with the winner taking over sole possession of first place in the Cape-Atlantic National Conference.

“We’ve already won eight (matches) and last year’s (win) total was nine,” said first-year coach Jeanne Donohue. “The first goal was to do better than last season. And last year they did better than the year before, so the program is progressing.”

The addition of a couple of excellent newcomers has given the Lady Panthers an infusion of talent at the top of the lineup. Freshman Maria Sakoulas is playing at first singles, bringing extensive youth tennis experience with her to the high school ranks. Sophomore transfer Brenna Bussinger has done extremely well for Middle at second singles.

“The combination of a really good core of senior leaders plus these couple newcomers has sort of energized us,” Donohue said. “To have the older girls and then to get those new younger players into the lineup has given us a pretty strong varsity group.”

Senior Serenity Carlos is at third singles. Sophomore Fiona Gayle and senior Rylee McFadden play at first doubles, while seniors Sophia Zheng and Lily Zuzulock are at second doubles.

Middle got somewhat of a late start to the season. The program had difficulty finding a head coach before Donohue, a longtime employee of the school’s athletic department, stepped in at the 11th hour. For the seniors, Donohue is the fourth head coach of their careers.

Despite the late start, Middle has already beaten a handful of teams to which it lost last season.

“I think it’s actually made them closer as a group,” Donohue said. “They pretty much run themselves. We started late, so that was a little bit of a disadvantage, but they’ve been very self motivated. They’re highly motivated students academically and that shows in the way they approach tennis. They’re very easy athletes to coach.”

Middle will look to continue its success over the final month of the season by attempting to finish at or near the top of the conference standings while also competing well in the upcoming South Jersey playoffs.

And with two sophomores and a freshman among the top five players, the program seems to be in a good position for the future as well.

“We are definitely looking forward to continuing to build this,” Donohue said. “We’ll miss the five seniors we have in the program because they’re such a tight-knit group, especially the way they’ve brought themselves to this point with having four different coaches in four years. But we’re happy with our younger players, so this team has a chance to still be strong going forward.”