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Kelly Brown, 22, is generally considered to be the finest local women's tennis player who ever competed in Western New York. Yet Bridget Merrick, 22, a close friend of Brown's and the area's No. 2 ranked player, isn't far behind.

The two recently met in the final of the Muny Championships, with Brown prevailing, 6-4, 6-3, in an extremely well played match. Unfortunately, it could be the last match that the two will ever play against each other.

Brown has left Buffalo to take a position as a tennis pro in Pittsburgh. She will be joining Rob Gregoire and Frank Baritot, two former Buffalo pros, at their tennis academy.

Merrick will be leaving shortly for California. She hopes to play a few satellite events and eventually settle there.

The rest of the top 10 -- with the exception of No. 10 Kathy Twist, age 47 -- has an average age of 14. Five of the seven girls are highly ranked in the East and two have high national rankings. This is the most outstanding collection of young players that have ever been ranked in the 20 years The News has been compiling them.

Rankings are based on results from the Summer Challenge Series, junior tournaments, input from local experts and observations of this writer. A special thanks to Tom LaPenna, executive director of tennis at the Village Glen, for his help in compiling the rankings. He has worked with most of the girls at one time or another and has seen them play in local, regional and national competition this year.

The rankings follow:

1. Kelly Brown -- Brown's overall record speaks for itself. As a teen-ager she was undefeated for three years at Kenmore West High School at first singles. As a junior she became the only Western New York woman to ever win the New York State Women's High School Tennis Championships. She was also the No. 1 ranked woman in the 18 and under division in the Eastern rankings. She went to the University of Kentucky, where she played as high as No. 2 singles. Brown and her doubles partner were ranked as high as sixth nationally in collegiate play. It was evident in the Muny final against Merrick that she had added a greatly improved net game to complement her outstanding ground strokes.

2. Bridget Merrick -- Her strengths are her ability to hit winners from almost anywhere on the court and an exceptional serve and volley game. She starred at Hamburg High and went to the University of Richmond on a tennis scholarship. After an outstanding collegiate career she and her doubles partner played a few satellite events. They reached the semifinals of two of the events and were ranked in the mid 500s in the world. Merrick became one of the few Buffalo players to have achieved tour tennis points.

3. Lyndsay Shosho -- At age 15 she is ranked sixth in the 16-and-under girl's division in the East and she's the odds-on favorite to become the area's top-ranked women's player next year. Early in the spring she defeated Kara Tarkov, the East's fourth-ranked 16-and-under player, in Long Island, 6-3, 6-3. Shosho has been undefeated for the past two years at first singles for Williamsville East High School. She is quick afoot and is very consistent with her ground strokes.

4. Courtney Klein -- The 16-year-old junior plays second singles for Williamsville East. She is ranked No. 12 in the East in the 16-and-under division. She has great concentration and hits with topspin on both her forehand and backhand. Her season highlight was winning the Village Glen women's singles in July.

5. Kristen Ortman -- The Amherst High junior has won 26 straight dual matches at No. 1 singles. The 15-year-old's summer highlight was a 6-3, 6-3 win over Klein in the Muny Championships, where she progressed to the semifinals. However, Klein defeated her in three other tournaments. Ortman has played and practiced more this year than she has in the past. Her consistency and depth on her shots are much improved.

6. Lisa LaPenna -- The 16-year-old is the first singles player for Williamsville South. She won the August Village Glen's women's open singles tournament. During the past year her serve has become a real weapon. Her ground strokes are very steady and she has improved her concentration and ball placement.

7. JJ Larson -- Larson is ranked fifth in the East in the girl's 14-and-under division. She probably would have been ranked higher. However, the 13-year-old had to play No. 1-ranked Jenna Loeb of New York in the quarterfinals of each of the three Grand Prix tournaments that she participated in. Larson has a powerful forehand and is an outstanding competitor.

8. (tie) Michelle Mitchell -- The 12-year-old wunderkind is the top-ranked player in the 12-and-under division in the East. She finished fourth and eighth, respectively, in the National Hard and Clay Courts. She and Brintney Larson won the national 12-and-under clay court doubles. The seventh grade student at Transit Middle School hits the ball extremely hard and has a court demeanor that belies her age.

8. (tie) Brintney Larson -- Larson, an 11-year-old dynamo, had a season that greatly rivaled Mitchell's. She is the third-ranked player in the East in the 12-under division. She finished seventh and fifth, respectively, in the national hard and clay courts. Her success in doubles is not surprising, due to her outstanding net game and foot speed. She and her sister are both home schooled by their mother.

10. Kathy Twist -- The 47-year-old wonder is like the Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going, and going, and going. . . . Twist is the women's tennis coach at UB and keeps young and fit by training hard with the team. She said, "You know that it's getting tougher to compete against the youngsters. However, I went three sets with Lisa LaPenna in a recent Village Glen tournament and defeated Callie Speller, another top player. I don't worry about the score. I play because I enjoy the game and I want to support women's tennis in Western New York."

Second serves

Ross Nwachukwu has left his tennis teaching pro post at the Village Glen to assume the position of assistant tennis coach at the University of Kansas. . . . Former Grand Islander Jimmy Arias is the new coach of Monica Seles. He was with her at the recent du Maurier Open in Toronto and coached her at the U.S. Open. He will also be competing in his first senior tennis event (35 and over) at the end of September in Atlanta. . . . Rachel DelPriore defeated Maura McKenna in the Women's B Singles Muny final, 6-2, 6-3. The scores and players that appeared previously in The Buffalo News were erroneously reported by the Muny Tennis committee.

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