Warriors Continue Strong Start Despite First Loss
The Valley Regional girls’ tennis team has gotten off to a 5-1 start on the season. The Warriors earned victories against Haddam-Killingworth (6-1) and Cromwell (6-1) last week. (Photo courtesy of Sally Riggio)
Senior captain Ada Ramos has been stellar in the No. 1 single position so far this season. Ramos grabbed 6-3, 6-0 victory in Valley’s 6-1 win against Cromwell on April 22. (Photo courtesy of Sally Riggio)
Senior captain Alex Halsey earned a decisive 6-0, 6-0 win in the Warriors’ 6-1 triumph over Cromwell on April 22. (Photo courtesy of Sally Riggio)
The Valley Regional girls tennis team has been on a tear so far this season. Head Coach Sally Riggio’s squad had a slate of three games last week, and the Warriors picked up wins against Haddam-Killingworth and Cromwell and a loss against Westbrook. These results moved Valley’s record to 5-1 so far on the 2021 campaign.
The 2019 edition of the Valley girls’ tennis squad was one of the best teams in the state and reaching the Class S State Tournament final. Coach Riggio had hoped that 2020 would be an even better year for the Warriors, but the COVID-19 pandemic dashed those chances. Now, Valley has just enough players to fill both the singles and doubles positions, yet still the Warriors are having notable success on the courts.
“We had 14 players in 2019, and we had two seniors and six juniors that were going into their senior year in 2020. That’s why 2020 was particularly devastating for all of us. They all worked so hard to position for last year,” said Riggio. “The new players that have joined this season have been very committed to learning the concepts and developing their skills. They are a positive group of girls, and they are quick learners. It sets us up for success moving forward this season.”
Coach Riggio trusts in the support of her two senior captains Alex Halsey and Ada Ramos. The team’s demeanor begins with Halsey and Ramos’s leadership, and they have been handling their roles with aplomb.
“Our captains are our two seniors Alex Halsey and Ada Ramos. Alex has been very outgoing and very inclusive reaching out to the other girls. She’s started an Instagram page, and she’s a great job rallying the girls up,” Riggio said. “Ada has been supportive in practices and is a very calming presence. She’s more of the quiet leader. She’s well-respected. All the girls feel very comfortable around all of their captains. That’s an amazing gift. They are both the only two returning players after the pandemic.”
On April 19, the Warriors picked up a 6-1 road win against Haddam-Killingworth. Coach Riggio applauded the Cougars for competing as hard as they did after a recent tragedy within the H-K community.
“Haddam-Killingworth was a really tough one, emotionally. They learned at school that day that they lost a member of their community. It was really difficult for their players,” said Coach Riggio. “It was excruciating for their school and all of their players. We just felt terrible for them. It was heartbreaking. We know that wasn’t their best day.”
At No. 1 singles, Ramos earned a 6-1, 6-0 victory, while Halsey claimed a 6-3, 6-3 win at the No. 2 spot. In the No. 3 position, Olivia Baldwin netted a 6-1, 6-1 win, and Joanna Petrone grabbed a 6-2, 6-0 victory at the No. 4 spot.
Ramos and Halsey have been impressive beyond their captaincies, and they always bring their bet on the singles court.
“I feel like Ada’s perpetually underestimated. She’s done a great job just maintaining rallies. She’s a backboard type of player. Her mental focus and her ability to dial herself in is her best strength. She had taken the pandemic off, so she’s getting back into her groove. She’s getting better with every match,” said Riggo. “Alex is similar to Ada in that she’s a well-rounded player. She’s got great placement. They have very similar styles. It’s almost hard to differentiate the two. They came up together as doubles players.”
As for the doubles matches, the No. 1 tandem of freshmen Hannah Schwartzman and Natalie Novak claimed a 6-1, 6-1 win, while the No. 2 duo of freshman Clara Shea and sophomore Samara Shankar earned a 6-3, 7-5 victory.
Valley’s No. 1 doubles pairing of Schwartzman and Novak have some experience playing tennis, but they are starting to pick up their games with the intensity of varsity competition.
“They’ve got some lesson experience, but I think this is their first time being in a consistently competitive situation with match points. They are doing very well,” said Riggio. “They are very dedicated to each other and to the team. They’ve been really committed. The more experience they get, the more connections they are making with their strategy and their placement to be a successful doubles team.”
On April 22, the Warriors earned a 6-1 home win against Cromwell. The weather definitely wreaked havoc with high winds and a nasty chill, but Valley pulled it out nonetheless.
“It was a gale force winds during that match. The weather was our biggest struggle,” said Riggio. “I’m proud of the players that they were able to maintain their composure and win. The wind was coming across the court so the ball would be pushed out wide. It was extremely tricky for all the kids to navigate, but they did a great job managing it.”
Ramos claimed a 6-3, 6-0 victory, while Halsey got a 6-0, 6-0 sweep. Baldwin grabbed a 6-3, 6-2 win, and Petrone snagged the 6-3, 6-0 triumph.
Baldwin and Petrone have been holding their own at the No. 3 and No. 4 singles spots, respectively. This campaign is both of their first forays into varsity tennis, and Coach Riggio admires their dedication to a new sport.
“Olivia Baldwin is undefeated at No. 3. She’s the sister of one of our former players—Caroline Baldwin. She’s got a great baseline game. She’s very focus and even-keeled. That seems to be the common denominator among all the singles players. She’s unflappable. She’s also got some great deep shots,” said Riggio. “Joanna is also undefeated. She’s small but mighty. She does a really good job of maintaining her focus. She’s engaged on every point, and she’s a versatile player. She’s also delightful and has a great sense of humor.”
As for the doubles matches, Schwartzman and Novak came away with a hard-fought 5-7, 6-3, 10-2 win, and Shea and Shankar took the 6-1, 6-1 win.
The No. 2 duo of Shea and Shankar have also been posting plenty of match victories this year. They have been using their mobility to make matters difficult for their opponents.
“They have some lesson experience as well, and they are in this competitive environment for the first time this year. Clara is the fastest kid on the team and she chases down every ball,” Riggio said. “My doubles teams have been excellent communicators. They really yearn to be successful and Clara and Samara are no different.”
On April 23, Valley played in a marathon match at Westbrook and took a 5-2 defeat in the contest. The match was drawn out mostly due to the play of Ramos and Halsey. Their matches both went to three sets, but ultimately ended up in losses. Still Coach Riggio loved their fight.
“We lost 5-2 but that was a three and a half hour match to decide that. The singles were very evenly matched. Our doubles still have some work to do, but they’re young. It was great experience though. They’re learning,” said Riggio. “I think that the kids had a chance to condition themselves and work themselves up to those longer matches. It was the first match that we’ve had that was that close and could have gone either way. We’ll get ‘em next time. That’s one of those matches I would call a good loss. You can’t be mad at losing a great match that you played well in.”
Valley’s match wins came from Baldwin (6-0, 6-0), and Petrone (7-5, 6-4).
The No. 3 doubles tandem of junior Maddie Mccuin and sophomore Ashley Cap weren’t able to secure a win, but they are working hard and getting better everyday. Cap actually joined the team just in time to prevent the Warriors from forfeiting their final doubles matches this season.
“Ashley joined the team a little bit later–at the beginning of April. She really saved us from forfeiting our No. 3 doubles. The minute she joined the team, she’s been so engaged,” said Riggio. “She and Maddie are still developing their skills and strategies. They both have really great attitudes though. They’ve been a joy to have on the team.”
Valley has been impressive this year, but Coach Riggio is less concerned with the team’s overall record than what her athletes get out of this experience.
“The most important thing to me, win or lose, is that the girls feel good about themselves. I want to make sure they are playing for themselves, not for me. They are not always going to have their best day, but I want them to know that there’s no such thing as letting anybody down. This is about them,” Riggio said. “My greatest pride this season is the amount of unwavering sportsmanship we have on the team. I feel like its a new opportunity for us to demonstrate that we respect everyone and what they bring to the Shoreline. It’s corny, but I’m beaming with Warrior pride.”