---- — By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
The Milton girls tennis team enjoyed a resurgent year in 2012, while also becoming a team that finally had to be reckoned with.
Two key cogs in the Black Panthers' progression into a winning program this season were senior Megan Rudloff and Aaron Slusser -- The Daily Item's Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively.
n Player of the Year
Rudloff, a second-team All-Star a year ago, went 12-6 on the season at No. 1 singles to lead all area players in victories.
"Megan had an awesome year and I'm really happy for her. I wish she had a few more years of high school left," said Slusser. "When you break down her record a little more, Megan's success becomes even more impressive.
"Two of her three losses came to Maggie Manchester of Williamsport (who I think was undefeated), and three of her six losses came early in the season," added Slusser. "All of her losses came to players who advanced in the district singles tournament, and she was never shut out in a set in a match that she lost."
In addition, Rudloff advanced to the second round of the District 4 singles tournament as well as into round two of the doubles tournament with fellow All-Star, Dana Kyle.
But if you ask Rudloff, the moment of the season that she enjoyed the most came when Milton shut out Shikellamy 5-0 in a conference match on Sept. 5.
In the match, Rudloff bested Tiara Bartol, herself an All-Star performer this year, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5.
"The season was rewarding, challenging and enjoyable at all times," said Rudloff. "One of the highlights of the season was when we swept (Shikellamy). That was so awesome because I think that was the first time in Milton girls tennis history that each varsity player won in the same match."
One of the things that helped Rudloff during the year was her ability to stay calm, cool and composed during even the toughest of matches.
"Megan is very easy going and she never really got frustrated during a match, even if she was down," said Slusser. "An example of this was when we played Selinsgrove in September. Megan dropped the first set 0-6 and it was not looking good. We talked during the set change and she was very calm and proceeded to win the next two sets, 6-2, 6-2."
That victory was just another day's work playing the No. 1 singles spot in a tough Division I of the Heartland Athletic Conference.
"Playing the No. 1 spot was intimidating at times because I was always up against the best player on the other team. I played a lot of great opponents," said Rudloff. "I stayed composed during my matches because no matter if I won or lost, I always enjoyed playing my favorite sport."
n Coach of the Year
Slusser, who just completed his fourth season as Milton's coach, struggled through some lean years before the Black Panthers went 10-8 (8-6 HAC) in 2012.
Milton won more matches this year than in Slusser's previous three (7). In 2010 the Black Panthers didn't win a single match and finished 0-18.
"That year was extremely frustrating. We honestly had good players, especially at singles, but we never put together a complete match where everyone played well," said Slusser. "I think that when I took over the team four years ago, the girls were just playing to have fun; tennis wasn't taken very seriously.
"Now it seems that the girls aren't happy with just being on the team; they want to win."
Milton would win its way into the District 4 team tournament in what is believed to be the team's first trip into the postseason. However, the Black Panthers fell in the first round to a tough Montgomery squad, 3-0.
"Our main goal for this year was to make the playoffs as a team. Coming into the season we felt that we were very solid, but we had to prove it during our matches," said Slusser. "I think that learning how to win and tasting success will help drive the team to do better in the future, but I also think that other teams in the league won't take us so lightly anymore."