WILMINGTON -- It's not an arsenal of wicked serves or the athletically racing back-and-forth around the court that makes the Tower Hill Academy girls tennis team so tough.
It's what's in the defending state champion Hillers' collective heads that separates them from the pack, according to coach Wendy Berkover.
Tower Hill freshman Jamie Tigani epitomized that mental toughness at first singles as the Hillers defeated fourth-ranked St. Mark's 5-0 in a nonconference match on a breezy but pleasant Monday afternoon.
Tigani was involved in a somewhat testy matchup with St. Mark's senior Celesta Smith. Both players challenged each another's line calls on several occasions and seemed to be generally frosty towards each other.
But it was Tigani who was able to pull out a 6-3, 6-4 win over Smith despite falling behind 3-0 in the second set. Smith questioned several of her errant shots out loud throughout the match while Tigani remained quiet and focused.
"I think my mental game was the most important thing that kept me in it," Tigani said. "That, and just being positive."
Appropriately, it was Tigani's win that sealed the team victory for Tower Hill (8-1 overall), whose only loss has been to Sanford on April 18. The Hillers then rebounded and beat Sanford last Wednesday.
"They are just so mentally tough," Tower Hill coach Wendy Berkhover said. "They're just not going to give up. They keep fighting until the last point and that's what makes a good athlete. They're just really nice, good, honest kids and they're mentally tough players."
The Tower Hill doubles teams were the first to finish, taking a lot of pressure off their three singles players.
Junior Darcy Dobis and senior Anne Hobbs defeated St. Mark's juniors Roxanne Nawrot and Anna Sorantino 6-1, 6-0 at first doubles and the Hillers' tandem of senior Lauren Boudreaux and junior Faith Lyons turned away Spartans sophomore Kaetlin Zink and freshman Carly Fabian 6-1, 6-0 at second doubles.
The Hillers swept the singles as well, as sophomore Sydney Butler topped junior Jordan Hill 7-5, 4-6, 3-1 at second singles. Hill had to withdraw in the third set with cramping in her legs.
Eighth-grader Raylin Xu completed the sweep by fighting for a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 triumph over sophomore Carmen Rurak at third singles.
"We expected Tower Hill to definitely be a challenge," said St. Mark's coach Michaella Tassinari, whose team fell to 7-1.
"The singles really battled it out. They were all really close. It was really close for everyone."
However, it was that mental toughness that made Tower Hill a winner.
Tower Hill 5, St. Mark's 0
Tigani, TH, def. Smith 6-3, 6-4; Butler, TH, def. Hill 7-5, 4-6, 3-1 (ret.); Xu, TH, def. Rurak 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
Hobbs/Dobis, TH, def. Nawrot/Sorantino 6-1, 6-0; Boudreaux/Lyons, TH, def. Zink/Fabian 6-0, 6-1.
Contact Mike Finney at 734-7945 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of The News Journal