The beginning of the 2017 season threw several curve balls at the Ridgewood Girls Varsity Tennis team. The team graduated eight seniors in 2017 and was left with only five returning players this year. Also, after ten years as the varsity head coach, Coach Kirtane decided to take one year off to raise her first child. To make matters even worse, in late September, Captain Julia Yoon, a four year varsity singles starter, suffered a season-ending eye injury during practice. The injury occurred the week before the Bergen county tournament, forcing Ridgewood to forfeit the second singles spot. Fortunately, the tournament consists of five individual brackets, one for each of the three singles spots and two doubles spots. Each singles player and doubles team earns a point for their school for every match that they win. The high school with the greatest sum of points becomes the county champions. Even though Ridgewood had to forfeit the second singles spot, the remainder of the team was able to compete. Still, without the crucial points from the second singles spot it would be impossible for the Maroons to win the country championship. Despite knowing this, the girls went into the tournament and gave it their all. The true motivation came from their captain; the girls played for the opportunity that Julia Yoon had lost.
The tournament turned out to be a huge success for the rest of the team. Freshman Alana Kerner, who was a dynamic force at the first singles spot this year, pulled off an upset and made it to the quarterfinals of counties. Second doubles players Vanita Sharma and Alana Bonfiglio also made their ways to the quarterfinals. Sophia Swanson came in second to Northern Highlands at the third singles position. First doubles duo Sarah Casale and Kaelie Kerner lost in a third set marathon match to Northern Highlands, earning them a second place title as well.
After the county tournament and the injury, the lineup had to be adjusted to fill the second singles spot. Third singles junior Sophia Swanson, a year three varsity athlete who had played second singles the season before, stepped up and held her own at the second singles position. First doubles was forced to split, and junior Sarah Casale moved to third singles. Freshman Eunice Cha joined Kaelie Kerner at first doubles while the second doubles team remained the same.
In the next two weeks the team swept the first three rounds of the state tournament 5-0. The greatest team success came just a few days later when the team defeated Livingston in the sectional championship (the “Metlife” of tennis). With victories at first singles, third singles, as well as first and second doubles, the final score was 4-1. Sophia Swanson performed incredibly, but ultimately fell short in a tiebreaker by just two points. Just two days later the team traveled to Mercer County Park, where they unfortunately lost 2-3 to Montgomery High School, with victories at the third singles and second doubles positions.
The Ridgewood Girls Tennis Team handled every unexpected factor this season threw at them with grace, strength, and an undeniable desire to succeed. And succeed they did. Not only did the team come out of the season with a state title, but also with a newfound respect for their teammates and themselves after seeing what they were capable of.
Graphic: Sofia Lee