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Sports Person of the Week
Salisbury Has Big Year at No. 2 Singles
Gianni Salisbury won 14 matches as a junior for the Westbrook girls’ tennis team during the 2021 spring season. (Photo courtesy of Gianni Salisbury)
The Acton Public Library had a special visit from Robert the Llama on Thursday June 24, 2021 as part of the libraryþÄôs summer reading program. Evan Zarotney, age 8, pets Robert as his mother Christina Zarotney holds younger brother Eric, age 3 as owner of Country Quilt Llama Farm Debbie Labbe holds Robert. Wesley Bunnell / Harbor News)
Tennis is one of the few sports where the responsibility of what happens over the course of a given contest falls solely on two people competing against each other. For Gianni Salisbury, a rising senior on the Westbrook girls’ tennis team, there is no better feeling than winning the mental and physical battles that come with a head-to-head matchup.
“It’s one of the few sports where really everything that happens in your match is on you,” says Gianni. “Of course, it still is a team sport, but it’s a lot different than say soccer and basketball, where you have your teammates to back you up if you make a mistake. In a match, it’s just you out there, and I like seeing what I can do on the court with my own individual skill.”
Gianni finished her junior year with a record of 14-3 playing the No. 2 singles position for Westbrook. Gianni earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors on behalf of the Knights, helping the team finish the year with a record of 17-3 on its way to making the Class S semifinals.
“The experience of competing in states and making it as far as we did was a pretty surreal moment. The fact that we were one of the top teams in the state felt pretty amazing,” Gianni says. “I just enjoyed experiencing it with my team, because we are all really close, and we had a lot of fun doing it.”
One of Gianni’s favorite moments of the season came when Westbrook earned a 4-3 victory versus Shepaug Valley in the quarterfinals of the Class S State Tournament. Gianni battled back to win her match in a three-set thriller, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, and send the Knights into the semis.
“I was up 5-4 in the third set, and I was the last person on the court. The match was tied 3-3, and I had to win my match for the team to win. I ended up winning the set 6-4, advancing us to the semifinals,” Gianni says. “When I won, my teammates ran onto the court and gave me a hug. Experiencing that with my team was just a really amazing feeling and one I will never forget.”
Head Coach Paula Fitzgerald says that Gianni sets an excellent example for her teammates and is a player who they all aspire to be like. Fitzgerald adds that Gianni simply refused to quit no matter what happened in any match.
“Gianni works hard at improving her game, in season and out. You hope as a coach that you can get a player to strive to reach their full potential, and Gianni does that, but the credit has to go to her. It is her innate character to do so,” says Fitzgerald. “Throughout the season, the team saw her never giving up in a match. And more to her character, when you play in the 2nd singles spot, you can get overlooked in receiving credit at times, but the entire team realizes her essential worth to the team. And more importantly, she is just a great person to have on the team and a true leader by example.”
Gianni’s relationship with Coach Fitzgerald has flourished since she started playing tennis at Westbrook as a freshman. Gianni calls Fitzgerald one of her favorite coaches.
“I always love listening to her stories, and she is one of the main reasons I love tennis so much. She makes practice a very fun and positive environment and somehow puts up with our team antics,” Gianni says of Fitzgerald. “She helped me so much this season. When I would talk to her in between sets, she would always know exactly what to say and always seemed to know what I was thinking.”
Gianni feels that Westbrook exceeded expectations with its achievements during the 2021 season. On the heels of a great campaign, Gianni says that she can’t wait to return to the court for her senior year.
“At the start of the season, I don’t think any of us really knew how the season was going to go. We were returning with no seniors and only four juniors with varsity experience. We had a very young team, and our plan was just to improve and have a lot of fun,” says Gianni. “We surprised ourselves when we started winning. We just kept getting better, and I am so proud of everyone and how much they improved. The fact that we finished second in the Shoreline, third in the state, and made it to the semifinals of the State Tournament is just crazy to think about sometimes.”