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Sports Person of the Week
Petrone Plays Pivotal Role as a Freshman
Joanna Petrone earned her spot at No. 4 singles as a freshman and helped the Valley girls’ tennis team put together a quality season this spring. (Photo courtesy of Joanna Petrone)
Joanna Petrone helped the Valley Regional girls’ tennis team turn in strong season during her first year with the program. The Warriors had just enough players to field a full squad for their varsity matches, and Joanna was entrusted to hold her own at No. 4 singles as a freshman.
Valley posted an overall record of 11-6 that included a win in the Class M State Tournament this year, and Joanna’s performance on the court proved huge in that success. Joanna even put together a solid run in the Shoreline Conference No. 3-4 Singles Tournament by reaching the semifinal round. Joanna believes that her experiences from the season will stay with her for a long time.
“Definitely making it to semifinals in Shorelines is something that I’m really proud of. That was a cool experience,” says Joanna. “Also, getting into and playing in the State Tournament was a big accomplishment. We beat one team, and we came pretty close to beating the No. 2 seed. It was a pretty cool experience to be in states.”
Joanna really enjoyed being a part of a smaller team this spring. That situation would typically be seen as a disadvantage, but Joanna felt that one of Valley’s biggest strengths was having a tight-knit group of athletes.
“I think it was really cool coming from a small team. A lot of the teams we played were big and had extra players,” Joanna says. “I think it helped us bond as a team. We were like a little family that worked really well together, because we were always playing.”
Joanna believes that working within a smaller group also helped her hone her competitive edge. Joanna learned things about playing varsity tennis that she might not have discovered otherwise.
“It was really cool to start in such a great position. It allowed me to learn from the seniors with all of us being on the same team wanting to win,” says Joanna, who lives in Deep River. “I got tips from other players on the team who had been playing for many more years than I had.”
Most of Joanna’s tennis experience before joining the Warriors came from playing in various camps or with other family members, such as her mother Amy and her brother Jack.
“I’ve been playing at different camps since I was little. My family is pretty into it, and we play. I started playing more intensely a few years ago. That got me playing matches and things like that. Then I joined the Valley team this year,” Joanna says. “My mom played throughout high school and college. My brother also plays, and that’s good, because we’re more on an equal level. We can play each other and learn and motivate each other.”
Prior to starting high school, Joanna wanted to get some additional experience on the court to help her prepare for varsity competition. The COVID-19 pandemic made that a lot more difficult, but Joanna made sure to get in as much time between the baselines as possible.
“Over the summer, I didn’t have an opportunity to go to formal camps, so my family and I went to local courts to get some playing in,” Joanna says. “Over the winter, I did go to a camp to just get back into playing shape. I went to the Old Saybrook Racquet Club and trained with them over the winter.”
Joanna learned lot by playing for Valley as a freshman and adjusted her game accordingly as she improved on the court. At the beginning of the season, Joanna was mostly concerned with not making mistakes. As the campaign went on, Joanna played with more confidence and tailored her approach based on her opponent.
“I definitely started the season off very defensively and staying back. I didn’t have that good of a feel on the court. As I played more, I tried to get more aggressive, which worked sometimes and, other times, it didn’t,” says Joanna. “I love getting the point running up at the net. Being defensive is helpful, but a lot of times it will just tire you out. You can play defensively forever and just get your point waiting for someone to mess up. It mostly depends on your opponent.”
Head Coach Sally Riggio was impressed Joanna’s improvement over the course of the season. Riggio believes that Joanna’s positive perspective will contribute to her success for years to come.
“Joanna has been one of the best additions to the tennis team this year. Joanna is a total package of skill, focus, and sportsmanship. She continued to develop her skills and strategies throughout the season,” Riggio says. “Joanna is a delightful young lady that shows up every day with a positive attitude and smile. It has been a pleasure to be Joanna’s coach. I look forward to continuing to help guide her, as she will undoubtedly have an exceptional high school tennis career.”
Joanna looks forward to seeing what the future holds for the Warriors. The 2021 season was a great experience for Valley’s athletes, and Joanna thanks her teammates for bringing her into the fold.
“This year even, with COVID and everything, it was such an amazing year. Everyone was encouraging and accepting,” Joanna says. “Playing as a team was so great, and I really feel like that everyone being so welcoming and accepting really helped us win this year.”