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Sports Person of the Week
Halsey Ready to Rebuild with Warriors After Long Layoff
Alex Halsey will be stepping up her responsibilities with the Valley Regional girls’ tennis team as a senior captain this spring. Alex will also transition from the doubles court to the singles lineup for the 2021 campaign. (Photo courtesy of Alex Halsey)
Alex Halsey is eager to take the tennis court with the Valley Regional girls’ tennis team this spring. Nearly two years after the squad claimed a share of the Shoreline Conference championship, Alex will be stepping into a different position altogether as a senior captain singles player for the Warriors.
Alex began her tennis career at Valley as a doubles player alongside Jill deJongh, who has since graduated. Alex and deJongh played doubles together for two seasons and, in their final year together, the duo helped the Warriors win a Shoreline Conference title and then earn runner-up honors in the Class S State Tournament.
“We had a lot of chemistry. When I was put with Jill, we became really close friends. We hung out every day, and it was so much fun for us to be tennis partners. We were spending so much time with each other. She’s one of my closest friends still,” Alex says of deJongh. “We were always determined to win, and we balanced each other out. Sophomore year, we were together again since we already had the chemistry. As a whole team, we were Shoreline co-champions with Old Lyme, and we were state runner-ups.”
Earning a piece of the Shoreline title is something that Alex will cherish forever. Valley finished with an overall record of 22-2 in the 2019 spring season, and that year will always be a special one for Alex.
“There was so much anticipation. Our team was really close my freshman and sophomore years. We encouraged each other. It was such a family. We all wanted each other to succeed. We had this winning streak, and there was so much anticipation for the next match. I just remember it being so exciting,” says Alex. “We were very proud when we found out. We had to settle for the co-champions, but we sort of ignored that part, and let ourselves have the victory. When we went to states, we knew the team we were playing was a much larger school. We were prepared, but we were really proud to be runner-up.”
The Warriors’ roster will look much different than the last time the club took the court. After COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the 2020 season, Alex is ready to get back out there with her teammates. Alex’s goal is still to win at every opportunity, but the most important thing for her is to simply be able to compete for Valley.
“The ultimate goal is Shoreline champions again, but I’m just excited to develop this team and work together. Most of the players aren’t familiar with the environment of high school tennis. I’m excited to expose them to it and continuing the welcoming environment I came into when I was a freshman,” says Alex, who lives in Essex. “That positivity and encouragement that followed me when I was a freshman and a sophomore, I want to make sure that continues for these players, so they can carry it into the future.”
Alex has the opportunity to instill that type of positive energy into the Warriors as a senior captain this year. Alex feels grateful that Head Coach Sally Riggio has given her a chance to make her mark on Valley tennis.
“I’ve known Coach Sally since I was little. I think she really understands who I am as a person. I wasn’t expecting to be team captain or anything like that, but it was something that I was aiming for,” Alex says. “I think I showed that determination on the court. It’s a comforting feeling to know that she thinks that I would be a good captain and that she would put that responsibility on me to be captain.”
Coach Riggio knows that she will get Alex’s best effort on an everyday basis, whether that effort comes on the court as a player or off the court as a leader.
“Alex is the definition of determination, sportsmanship, and fun-loving spirit. As a freshman, Alex earned Most Improved for the 2018 season. By her sophomore year, she finished with a 17-1 record and Honorable Mention for [the] All-Shoreline Conference Team. As we head into the 2021 season, I knew that I would need strong leaders to help reunite our team,” says Riggio. “Alex is one of two captains and was chosen for her ability to lead by example. She’s kind, approachable, and an experienced player. She excels academically, and she is admired by teachers and peers. She comes from a wonderful family of accomplished tennis players. Alex’s positive attitude and enthusiasm will ensure our team’s success.”
In addition to taking a more prominent role as a senior captain, Alex will be competing as a singles player this spring. Alex enjoyed playing alongside deJongh on the doubles court for two years, but switching over to singles is something that she’s been aiming for since the beginning of her career.
“I play singles matches in the summer, and I train singles when I play with my family,” Alex says. “I always loved playing with Jill, but I always wanted to be a singles player. I would see my sister Hannah playing like that, and I wanted to do the same.”
Alex believes that she can make a smooth transition into the singles lineup. As a key part of that, Alex is ready to move up and attack more consistently at the net this year.
“I’m more of a baseline player. I’m working on being more aggressive at net. I’ve been harnessing those skills, and I know I can put them in play. It’s more of a comfort thing for me to be at baseline, but it’s something I’m working on,” says Alex. “I took advantage of net whenever I was playing with Jill. You need to do that as a doubles player. I try to still be an offensive player, even from the baseline. I’m not necessarily a defensive player, but I am a baseline player.”
With such a long break in between campaigns, Alex had to do everything that she could to get ready for this season. Typically, Alex would stay sharp by playing in some United States Tennis Association (USTA) matches, but that wasn’t an option at the height of the pandemic.
“I went for a lot of runs around town with my mask on. We also have a treadmill. I had access to an outdoor court in the summer, so I could play with my family, because they were in my bubble. I couldn’t play in the USTA matches I would in the summer,” Alex says. “When training started again this fall, I started playing at the Guilford Racquet Club outdoors. Then, we gradually moved indoors. It was great. It was in a big warehouse. They took temperatures, had hand sanitizer everywhere, and all the windows and doors were open. It was kind of cold, but it felt safe.”
Alex can’t wait to see what this year brings for her and her fellow Warriors. Regardless of how everything unfolds, Alex feels lucky to have Coach Riggio there to help the team get through it all.
“I’ve known Coach Sally since I was little. I was so immediately comfortable when I joined the team as a freshman. It’s so much fun to have her as a coach, and she understands the intensity of the game. Whether a match is really tough, or if we’re really doing well, she knows what to say. She also taught me how to be more competitive. I’ve embraced her determination and drive into my own mindset,” says Alex. “I think I’m just excited to see where the season takes us. It’s a brand-new team. We’ll get to know each other and create that community and train hard.”