There's a newcomer on the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference women's tennis postseason scene, and Mount Aloysius College has no plans on going anywhere.
The Lady Mounties are in their third season, not including one year as a club team, under the direction of Mike Kush, who also serves as girls tennis coach at Westmont Hilltop High School.
Mount Aloysius' ascent through the conference ranks has been rapid.
The Lady Mounties finished the regular season with a 9-2 record, which includes a 6-2 conference record. Mount Aloysius finished third in the conference and completed another program first when it defeated Pitt-Bradford, 6-3, for the program's first postseason victory. With the victory, the team advanced to the conference semifinals against top-seeded Penn State Behrend, which has won 13 of the past 14 conference championships.
The match will be played Saturday at The Oxford Athletic Club in Wexford.
"Last year, we finished eighth in the conference. At our banquet, I said my goal for the team was to make the top six and make the conference playoffs," Kush said. "I knew we what we had coming in, we'd be a lot better."
What Mount Aloysius had coming in was a solid freshman recruiting class chock full of local talent. It helped the Lady Mounties improve from a three-win team a year ago, and one that won one match in its initital season.
The freshman class is led by Cheyenne Feathers, a Windber High School graduate who has played No. 1 singles. Katie Morris, who played at Bedford, plays No. 2 singles.
"Our top four girls are all freshmen and they were all number one or two for their high schools. I knew if I could get one or two of those girls, it would make a difference," Kush said. "There's a lot of local girls playing tennis within a 60-mile radius who don't know about the opportunity to play Division III tennis."
While Division III does not allowcate scholarship money for athletics, it does for academics, and that's one way Kush has been able to attract local talent to Mount Aloysius.
"It's an opportunity for a good education at a small school," he said. "A lot of these girls come from smaller areas and they're not looking for a big-city campus."
And Mount Aloysius is also offering tennis players a chance to compete for a conference championship.
Freshmen Loreal Housler and Brittany Johnson also play singles for the Lady Mounties. Housler's arrival was a bit of a surprise for Kush, as the former Elk County Catholic standout planned to attend another college before she decided to continue her playing career.
"I knew with (Feather and Morris) that we'd be a lot better," Kush said.
"When we added (Housler) at the last minute, I don't think finishing third in the conference was a shock. The thing with these girls is they are not content. They want to win the whole thing, and I think we have a shot."