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Khmylev tops crop of rising stars

Olga Khmylev is Western New York's top-ranked women's tennis player. At 15, she is drawing comparisons to former 15-year-old stars such as Brintney and JJ Larson, Michelle Mitchell, Lyndsay Shosho and Kelly Brown.

The average age of the top 10 women in the rankings is 16 years, 7 months, one of the lowest overall age averages in the history of The Buffalo News' rankings.

Rankings are based on results from local tournaments, Erie County Interscholastic Championships and matches, Sectional championships, and other tournaments in which top 10 players met.

Local experts and this writer had input in determining the final rankings.

1. Olga Khmylev: Khmylev is ranked fifth in the 16-Under Girls Division in the Eastern Rankings. She won the Gold Medal at the Empire State Games and won the Village Glen tournament in August.

In October she played in two Sectional tournaments on Long Island, finishing first and second.

Last week, she reached the semifinals of the doubles at the prestigious International Eddie Herr tournament in Sarasota, Fla. In singles, she beat three players in the qualifying draw.

In the main draw she lost a heart-breaker to 13th-seeded Maria Sagerstrom of Finland, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4, after leading, 5-2, in the second set, with two match points.

Her strengths are a penetrating forehand and a powerful serve. The daughter of former Buffalo Sabre Yuri Khmylev, she is a fierce competitor who is brimming with confidence.

2. Elise Derose: The 18-year-old Colgate University freshman is playing third singles after a storied high school career at the Nichols School. Last summer she won the Muny Women's Open Singles title and lost a well-played final match to Khmylev in the August Village Glen final.

She also beat highly regarded Lauren Bates in a junior tournament in Albany earlier in the year.

She has a knack for hitting penetrating shots to the corners and volleys exceptionally well.

3. Lauren Bates: The 17-year-old Kenmore West senior won the Section VI girls high school tennis championships for an unprecedented third straight year. She went 84-0 over six seasons in the Niagara Frontier League. (She started playing as a seventh grader.)

Bates is known for her powerful serve and forehand and will be attending Division I SUNY Binghamton next year.

4. Tina Miller: The 14-year-old Williamsville North freshman won the Erie County Interscholastic Tennis Championships for the third straight year. She also won the Buffalo City Open and finished as a runner-up in the Muny and Sectional championships. Her only losses were to Bates and DeRose.

She has an excellent chance of equaling Bates' consecutive Sectional titles in the future. She has an all-court game and always competes at a high level.

5. Miranda Podlas: The 14-year-old Williamsville East freshman lost a hard-fought, 6-4, 7-5 match to Miller in the ECIC finals. She reached the quarterfinals of the Sectional championships before losing to the top-ranked Bates, and lost to Khmylev in the semifinals of the August Village Glen tournament.

She has a strong ground game and has improved her volleys by constantly moving to the net in doubles.

6. Monica Vieth: The 16-year-old Williamsville East junior played second singles this year. She teamed with Podlas to form a "dynamic duo." She reached the quarterfinals of the ECICs and the semifinals of the Sectionals, defeating Brittany Walters and Jenn Ickowski in the Sectionals.

Recently, she won a Level II junior tournament in Rochester. Her improved consistency has propelled her game to another level this year.

7. Jenn Ickowski: The 17-year-old senior has been Lancaster High's No. 1 player since starting play in seventh grade. She split two matches with Podlas and lost in the finals of the Buffalo City Open to Miller. She also played third singles in the Empire State Games and is one of the few players in the top 10 who advances to the net at every opportunity.

8. Brittany Walters: The 17-year-old Kenmore East senior reached the semifinals of the Women's Muny Championships and lost a hard-fought three-setter to Vieth in the Sectionals. She is recognized as the Niagara Frontier League's second-best player, behind Bates.

She is known for her competitive spirit and attitude.

9. Danielle Viola: The 19-year-old Seton Hall sophomore played third singles last year. Three years ago she was the Muny Open women's singles champion. Last summer she lost in the semifinals of the Glen tournament to DeRose.

Her summer play was limited due to a severly sprained ankle. When she is healthy she has an all-court game that could place her back in the top three in the rankings next year.

10. Jenna Suffoletto: Like Viola, Suffoletto was hampered by injuries and she also suffered through a bout of mononucleosis.

As a member of the University of Pittsburgh's women's tennis team, she played mostly doubles. Last summer she lost to Podlas in the quarterfinals of the Glen tournament.

The 19-year-old hopes to return to local competition next summer and move up in the rankings.

e-mail: thegreatgar@cs.com.

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