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Sports Person of the Week
Rudikoff Never Backed Down at No. 1 Singles
Junior Ben Rudikoff played No. 1 singles for the North Haven boys’ tennis team this spring and earned a pivotal win to help the squad claim a 4-3 victory over Shelton in its season finale. (Photo courtesy of Ben Rudikoff)
Ben Rudikoff grew up with a tennis racquet in his hand. Ben went on to compete for the North Haven boys’ tennis team and held down the No. 1 singles spot on his way to being named the squad’s Most Valuable Player as a junior this spring.
Ben started with tennis at North Haven Health & Racquet at age six and has also played at the Ridge Top Club and the High Lane Club. As soon as Ben started playing tennis, the sport clicked for him.
“It’s a fun sport to play. It’s a great way to get active. I’m a pretty competitive person, and it’s a good psychology test,” says Ben. “It’s not that hard to get out there and play. It’s just a sport I enjoy to play.”
While Ben played at various clubs as a youngster, he was never a member of an official team. When he started at North Haven High School, Ben joined the boys’ tennis team and played No. 2 doubles as a freshman two years ago.
“It was definitely a different experience. There was a lot more pressure. I’m not used to playing doubles, but it was fun, being on a team and having team camaraderie,” Ben says. “It was great from the start. I was the only freshman that year. The captains really helped me make friends. It was really fun right from the start.”
Although his sophomore season was canceled due to COVID-19, Ben still wanted to work on his game and improve his skills. Ben felt lucky to be a tennis player, because it was one of the few sports in which participants could practice social distancing.
When he returned for his junior year, Ben was promoted to the No. 1 singles position. North Haven competed in SCC Division I this spring, meaning that Ben was squaring off with some of the best players in both the conference and state. Despite that challenge, Ben enjoyed going up against such strong opponents.
“It’s a more high-profile position. I’m on the main court every time. The level of competition stepped up so much,” says Ben. “We were in Division I of the Southern Connecticut Conference. These kids are like the best of the best. I played with some of the top kids in the state. It was fun playing against such a high level of competition.”
After playing doubles as a freshman, Ben enjoying competing on the singles circuit in his junior campaign. While he may have been on the court by himself, Ben was happy to see his teammates support him during every match.
“I like playing singles a lot more. In doubles, I feel more pressure to hold up the end of the bargain with my teammate. I end up tightening up,” Ben says. “In singles, I’m by myself, but I had a great team supporting me. You’re playing individual matches, but it’s set up like a team sport. You have to be supportive.”
North Haven went through a rebuilding season this year and was still looking for its first victory when the team faced Shelton in its finale. With the match tied 3-3, Ben took the court for the last contest of the day and claimed a 7-6, 6-4 victory to give North Haven a 4-3 win. Ben felt excited to pull through for his team, but he knows that the victory stemmed from a complete effort from everyone.
“I was pretty happy. That was our only win this season. It was a great experience for our team to finally get one win,” says Ben. “I was the one who played the clinching match, but if one of my teammates lost, I would’ve been playing for a 3-4 loss. It was a whole team effort that got us that win. It was special. To finally get that win was great.”
This year marked John Higgins’s first season as head coach of the North Haven boys’ tennis team, and it didn’t take long for him to see Ben’s talents. Higgins says that Ben worked his hardest in every matchup and epitomizes what it means to be a student-athlete.
“Ben played No. 1 singles this year, and he competed hard in every match against some of the best high school players in the state,” says Higgins. “He showed further grit by clinching our match at Shelton after taking an Advanced Placement test that afternoon. He is a true student-athlete.”
In addition to improving his tennis skills, Ben has grown a lot from a mental perspective throughout his tenure with North Haven boys’ tennis. With a few years of experience, Ben feels that he’s able to do a better job of handling the mental obstacles that occur during a given match. As he starts thinking about this senior season, Ben wants to help North Haven win more matches, while also helping everyone on the team improve.
“This year, we lost a lot of matches. But our coach always says, ‘You don’t lose matches. You win or you learn.’ This year, we got an Ivy league education in tennis,” Ben says. “When I’m a senior, whether I’m voted captain or not, I still want to be a leader for this team. I want to help everyone get better at tennis.”
Ben feels honored to represent North Haven whenever he steps between the baselines. Ben is looking forward to more season of playing tennis for his hometown high school.
“It’s an honor to represent our school,” says Ben. “For me personally, I’m playing against some of the best players in the state, guys who are going Division I. I like representing our school against the best of the best. It’s honestly an honor.”