Last year, Council Rock South tennis standout Dasha Chichkina advanced all the way to both the District One Class 3A semifinals and the PIAA state semifinals in postseason singles play.
This fall, the No. 1 player for the Golden Hawks punched her ticket to the finals in each tournament and for good measure, helped her teammates advance along with her to Hershey.
Chichkina has been playing tennis since entering elementary school. Now a junior at CR South, she is currently ranked the fifth-best player her age in Pennsylvania and among the top 50 in the Middle Atlantic region, according to tennisrecruiting.net.
Chichkina spends a significant amount of time perfecting her craft – playing anywhere from one to three hours a day and learning new aspects of the game approximately seven to eight hours a week.
“I take tennis pretty seriously. I always try to do my best and make sure that I can show everyone how I can play. I’m definitely very competitive when it comes to trying to place and do good in states,” she said.
“I love everything about it; it’s my life. I’ve been playing since forever and it’s just a part of me now.”
Around eighth grade, Chichkina started taking it to the next level. “I started doing a lot more tournaments and started taking everything a lot more seriously.”
Chichkina says many of her postseason scholastic foes are girls she plays tennis against in the offseason including Penn Manor senior Catherine Rabatin, Spring-Ford junior Mia Matriccino, Conestoga sisters Katie and Isabelle Emanuel, Souderton junior Amanda Yang, Owen J. Roberts junior Alison Root and Unionville junior Grace Li.
“We’ve all been playing in tournaments since we were 12 so we know each other pretty well.”
Li led Unionville to the District One 3A team title this fall while capturing both D1 and PIAA state individual crowns and Conestoga captured state team trophies this year and last.
Li has become Chichkina’s white whale as they say, defeating Chichkina in districts both this year and last and again in this year’s state finale. Unionville also toppled CR South in the semifinal of this fall’s D1 team tournament.
Chichkina wanted to win it all, sure, but takes pride in advancing to both district and state finals in singles play.
“It was definitely disappointing because I know Grace, I’ve played her lots of times, but I was still happy that I was a finalist,” said Chichkina.
“I think that next year, I can beat her. I know I can beat her.”
Chichkina says her strengths include her serve and backhand but adds that she needs to be more aggressive. She’s working to rectify that, she says. “I’m definitely working with my coaches in order to learn to be more offensive instead of always playing defense.”
When she’s not swinging a racket on the courts behind CR South, she can be found at Northampton Tennis & Fitness Center along with a few of her teammates including freshman Michelle Lerman, who advanced to the D1 3A quarterfinals this fall.
As a team, CR South also made it to states, led by Chichkina, Lerman at No. 2 singles and sophomore Anya Zubenko at third singles. Teaming up for the Hawks at first doubles were junior Emma Traktovenko and sophomore Isabella Prohorov while freshmen Kim Chen and Elizabeth Kraychik played second doubles.
In District One team play, the Hawks shut out 13th-seeded Strath Haven and fifth-seeded Methacton before falling to top seed Unionville in the D1 semis. South also toppled No. 3 Spring-Ford in a battle for third place.
In states, the Hawks blanked District One champ Central 5-0 before falling to D7 victor Mount Lebanon 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
“It was really important to me and the freshmen to show that we can do it, that we were able to show that now, our team is a lot stronger,” said Chichkina.
In the first round of states, the Hawks had to go only as far as Legacy Youth Tennis Center in Philadelphia while the quarterfinals played out in Hershey.
“Everybody was so young. Nobody had experienced the team’s success before so there were a million questions,” explained Hawks head coach Eric Scholl.
“Honestly, I think that kind of helped us because they just went out and played one match at a time.”
Driving to Hershey required an overnight stay however and that drives home the point that somehow the stakes are higher.
“It’s all new to them so it was a new experience. Once we drove to Hershey and had to stay overnight, they realize it’s pretty serious.”
Chichkina competes in USTA tournaments throughout the tri-state area but has been known to travel as far as Florida and California to compete in higher level tourneys. Recently, she took part in the hard court tennis championship played out at the Barnes Tennis Center located in San Diego.
Scholl says Chichkina leads by example and tried to settle some of those nerves the girls faced playing in states.
“For me I’ve been there before but for (my teammates), they were definitely a little nervous,” explained Chichkina.
“Because they were nervous, they definitely played a little bit differently. They didn’t play quite as loose as they are able to play but it was still a really fun experience for them.”
At second singles, Lerman went undefeated in team play during the regular season, helping the Hawks finish third in districts.
“She did really good for her first year being on the team; she was a big help,” said Chichkina.
And after taking a year off from scholastic play, Zubenko also turned in a stellar season at third singles.
The good news is everyone is returning next year.
“Now that we got a taste for being in states, we’re definitely going to come back next year hungrier,” stated Chichkina. “Hopefully, we’ll do better and I think we will do better next year.”
@stevesherman222 on Twitter