‘An amazing three years!’

Rob Maeske
The Chronicle-Express

Undefeated Penn Yan Academy’s third-time girls tennis Section V championship was the highlight of an uncertain season

The 2020 Fall season for varsity sports started off under a blanket of uncertainty. With a delayed start to the season, a shortened schedule, new safety regulations (including major restrictions on game attendance), and some schools opting out of the season altogether, no one could be certain of what the season would look like once underway. What was certain, however, was the talent and dedication of the PY Girls Tennis team; attributes that saw the team achieve an undefeated season, a fourth consecutive Doubles win at the Section V Individual Tournament, and their third consecutive Class B2 Championship.

Three-time Section V, B2 Champions, the Penn Yan Academy girls tennis team.

For the players and head coach Nate Kraemer, simply having the opportunity to participate this season was a win.

“This year,” said Kraemer, “things took on a different look as players, coaches, or even entire schools didn’t play due to the pandemic. On the whole, we were fortunate to get to play tennis and we were fortunate that we stayed healthy.”

“We’re really fortunate to have had a season,” echoed Senior Claire Pullen, one of the team’s starters. “It’s scary how everything has been… so, we’re really glad we had a season and really glad we won!”

The Mustangs’ tennis team didn’t simply participate this season, they dominated. Finishing the season at an untouched 13-0-0, nearly every match-up they had led to a 5-0 win at the end of the day, including their final match against Pal-Mac in Sectionals for the Championship. Despite the lopsided victory, Kraemer was quick to praise their opponents’ hard work, especially playing in the face of COVID.

“The Pal-Mac match in the finals was a perfect example of how difficult it has been playing sports this season during a pandemic,” said Coach Kraemer. “You were aware that at any moment players could be removed due to quarantine procedures and that your team would have to continue on as best as possible. Luckily for us, we only had one player have to go through that process and it was early in the season. Pal-Mac, unfortunately, had it happen at the most inopportune time, during Sectional play. With many of their starters out, they still got through to the finals. However, with so many players out that they had to forfeit 3rd singles. It wasn’t the contest that many of us were hoping for in the final match of the year. I want to congratulate them on their toughness. They never once complained about having to play with a depleted lineup and they put forth a great effort in the match.”

Four-time Section V Doubles Champions, senior sisters Claire and Molly Pullen.

Four-time doubles champions

On top of the team’s win in Sectionals this year, Claire and her sister Molly Pullen (also a Senior) won the Doubles Championship at the Section V Individual Tournament; their fourth time taking the title. Their father, Penn Yan Academy Principal Dave Pullen, couldn’t be more proud.

“Four Doubles championships is unprecedented in Section V, especially in small schools,” said Pullen. I think they’ve really set themselves apart. They’ve led their team to four straight finals, winning three of them. So, [I’m] really proud as both a parent and a principal.”

The Pullen sisters’ phenomenal record didn’t come without a lot of hard work, of course.

“They put in probably the equivalent of two additional sports seasons in the off-season,” reported Dave Pullen. “They trained at Empire Tennis Academy and most recently at Mendon Racquet Club. They practice seven days a week...so, they’ve really put in a lot of time and commitment to earn their accomplishments.”

“We go up to Rochester and put in a lot of hours practicing together,” said Molly. “We always motivate each other and hype each other up before matches and I think our bond has really strengthened because of tennis.”

“I agree with Molly,” laughed Claire.

“We worked really hard and put a lot of time and energy in and it feels really good,” said Molly.

Coach Kraemer added, “Molly and Claire really enjoy playing doubles together and have excelled over the years as a team. Last season, they got all the way to the quarterfinals in the State Qualifier tournament before losing to the top seed.”

Perhaps just as amazing as the sisters’ achievements is the relatively short amount of time they’ve been playing tennis. Picking up their racquets for the first time in their Freshman year of high school, the girls found almost immediate success, winning their first Doubles title that year.

“They’ve only played four years,” said Dave Pullen. “They knew what they had to do. They stopped playing basketball [to focus on tennis]. They love tennis; they’re committed to it. As a former P.E. teacher and coach, I couldn’t be happier that they chose a lifetime sport to pursue that they’ll be able to play for many, many, many years.”

Both Pullen sisters are Seniors this year and have been receiving offers from colleges all along the East coast. 

“They probably have 40-50 Division 3 schools looking at them and a dozen or so in Division 2, so there’s a lot of schools coming after them,” said Dave. “They’ll have a lot of opportunities.”

“What sets them apart,” Pullen continued, “is they’re both well-coached and prepared to play doubles and singles. One of their coaches calls them ‘Double Trouble.’ Their hard work has really paid off.”

The future looks bright with junior Abby Garvey, who took second in the singles championship.

The future

Besides the Pullens’ victory in Doubles, PY nearly had the win in Class B2 Singles at the Individual Tournament as well. Junior Abby Garvey finished second in the Singles tournament, narrowly losing out to French foreign-exchange student Nina Sorin, who played this season for the Aquinas Institute in Rochester.

“Abby is a tremendous player who ranks right up there with the best in Class B2,” said Kraemer. “She had a dominant tournament right up through finals. Many games went to deuce [in the final match], but Sorin just had the slight edge that day.”

Though much of the Mustangs’ starting lineup is composed of Seniors this year, Kraemer was optimistic and excited for the future of PYA’s tennis program.

“The core of our team is graduating, but we had an amazing three years with them going 42-1 and winning three Sectional titles. It’s been a great run and I look forward to seeing how our young players step up next season.”

This year has indeed been an uncertain one for scholastic sports and with the pandemic seemingly on the rise once again, that uncertainty extends into the foreseeable future. However, this year has made one thing abundantly clear: the PY Girls Tennis program is a force to be reckoned with and will undoubtedly be one of the most respected and feared competitors in Section V next season.