Miranda Podlas was lining up a shot against her opponent from Clarence last week when all of a sudden she heard a faint crack.
It was the familiar sound of a string on her tennis racket breaking. And it comes with the territory when you hit from an open stance, a shot that combines power with heavy top spin.
The open stance forehand is one of the biggest changes in tennis the past five years. Bye bye, serve and volley.
Today the game is taught from the baseline. Most high school players are learning to hit forehand shots with their legs in an open stance (parallel to the baseline).
"That's my game," said Podlas, who plays No. 1 singles for Williamsville East. "I'm kind of an aggressive baseliner. Look at the pros. Today everything is staying back, it's just power and athleticism."
Podlas has graduated from the old closed or neutral stance (feet turned sideways with the body). She said at least 90 percent of her forehand shots are open stance. She will come to the net if she sees an opening, but otherwise she's content to pound balls from the baseline, waiting for her opponent to make a mistake.
"I try to mix it up a little bit. You can catch them by surprise when you come to the net. But I definitely do it less than I used to," she said.
Podlas is very likely to break strings deep into this tennis season. She is among the favorites to win the Section VI and ECIC titles after losing in the finals of both events last year to teammate Olga Khmylev, now at Boston College.
She is one of Section VI's five returning players who went to states last year. Other returnees are senior Caroline Bristol (Orchard Park, singles), Emma Manuel (Williamsville East, doubles) and Kelly Matthews-Maddie Robinson (Williamsville North doubles team).
Podlas leads a Williamsville East team that is looking to go undefeated in the ECIC for the 15th year in a row. The Flames are off to a 4-0 start. Podlas is a four-year starter who hasn't lost a high school match since she was a freshman. As for college, she says her No. 1 choice right now is the University at Buffalo.
Manuel plays No. 2 singles for the Flames and Samantha Rowan is No. 3.
The return of two players to high school tennis has changed the dynamic of the season. Back after a one-year absence is senior Tina Miller of Williamsville North and junior Ashley Chevallier of Alden. Both spent last season playing USTA events.
Miller played high school tennis in grades 7-10, winning ECICs three times and reaching the sectional finals three times. She's back for her senior year, although right now she's day-to-day nursing an abdominal strain. She's receiving physical therapy and hopes to get the required six matches she needs to compete in the postseason.
Chevallier made it to states two years ago in doubles. She leads an undefeated Alden team that is 4-0 in ECIC IV. She's off to a 4-1 overall start with the loss coming to Bristol, 6-4, 6-3. "I just wanted to play for Alden and get to states," Chevallier said.
Orchard Park, coming off an 18-0 season, is off to a 9-0 start, which includes two wins over Nichols.
Bristol is a four-time state qualifier. Last year she reached the third round in singles. She's lost just one match in ECIC I since seventh grade. She's off to a strong start this season (9-0) along with No. 2 singles Alison Tepas (8-1) and No. 3 Katie Paiser (9-0).
"You won't meet a more gracious player on the court," OP coach Sandy Trampert said of Bristol.
"She cares about everyone on the court. She's kind of like the consummate team player."
Nichols sophomore Taylor Cole moved up to No. 1 singles this season. She took Bristol to three sets in their first meeting this season. Vikings coach Tim Schwartz said Cole is hitting a lot harder and with more consistency.
Junior Pamicka Marinello is another promising underclassman at No. 2 singles.
Niagara-Wheatfield graduated 12 players from last year's team that won the school's first Niagara Frontier League title. This year's Falcons are 5-2 to date.
Grand Island is leading the NFL at 8-0. The roster boasts 10 seniors, including three-year starters Alexandra Buscaglia (second singles) and Katie Samland (third).
Kenmore East senior Melissa Willhoff is undefeated at No. 1 singles. The Bulldogs lost their first meeting to rival Kenmore West, 3-2, but look forward to the rematch Friday at Sparky Adams Field at 4 p.m.
Around the nets
*Mike Venditti of Williamsville East is the new Section VI chairman, replacing David Coates of Kenmore East, who served in the post for the past two years.
*Three schools in the Niagara Frontier League have had major improvements made to their courts in the past year. Lew-Port had new courts built behind the school. The Niagara Falls courts at Hyde Park and Kenmore East's courts at Adams Field have been resurfaced with new lines and net posts. Lackawanna and East Aurora also had major renovation work done.
*The ECIC singles tournament is Oct. 16-17 at the Village Glen while the doubles tournament is the following weekend (Oct. 23-24) at the Glen. The eight-team NFL doubles tournament is Oct. 23 at Sportsplex. This year's Section VI Championship rotates to the Lakewood YMCA in Jamestown on Oct 30-31.