The girls varsity tennis team celebrates their state championship win on May 7. Photo: Omar López-Thismón

Senior captains of the girls varsity tennis team, Avi Arora, Bay Brickley and Leah Mautner, wanted their final year on the Pace courts to be different. “I’ve been playing with these girls for years, and it seems like each year we are building, so I want this final ride to be special,” said Arora. 

And special it was, as the team defeated Lovett in the state championship 3-2. The championship began at Rome Tennis Center on the morning of May 4 but was rained out in progress. The final matches resumed at Pace on May 7 and ended in a nail-biter as Arora at No. 1 singles finished off her opponent in a 7-5 third set tiebreaker to clinch the title. Also winning for the Knights were senior Leah Mautner and sophomore Sidney Funston at No. 1 doubles, and junior Rekha Sashti and sophomore Grace Funston at No. 2 doubles.

“Immediately after finishing my match, a physical surge of both relief and excitement overcame my whole body,” said Mautner. The relief did not last long, because Mautner knew as well as anyone that the work was not done. “The surge froze in its tracks as I turned to watch Avi clinch,” said Mautner. “She did her job as a senior, and soon our entire team was sprinting onto the first court, racing to be the first to hug Avi and celebrate our state championship win.”

During the regular season, the team went 7-2-2 with a 32-16 overall match record. Then, on April 10, the team defeated both stout Lovett and Westminster teams 3-2 to win the region championship and nab a number one seed in the state tournament.

The varsity girls hadn’t been crowned champions since the region tournament three years ago. The team and the coaches believe this newfound success is due in large part to a new focus: the tennis mentality.

During the off-season, assistant coach Zeena Lattouf led weekly workouts and book club meetings as the entire team read “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance” by Timothy Gallwey. Hailed by the likes of Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll and other sports and business tycoons, the book led head coach Matt Marsico and the players to believe it would improve self-care and their ability to deal with stressful situations in the middle of a match.

“The biggest difference has been our focus on the mental approach to the matches because, in the past couple years, we have let things outside of our control affect the way we play,” said Coach Marsico. “We have really been working on embracing the moments that we feel nervous, realizing that we can use that adrenaline as a positive instead of a negative.” Coach Marsico subscribes the mentality outlined in “The Inner Game of Tennis,” and realizes the team has learned from the book as well. “They’ve trusted that if we play the right way, regardless of what happens as a result, that it will pay dividends over the course of time,” he said.

The strength of this girls team lies in its depth, as both doubles teams won both their matches at region. Given this strong foundation, the team only needed to steal one win at the singles lines. Against Westminster, Arora ran into five-star freshman recruit Ann Wright Guerry, but Pace freshman Kate Jonas was able to run away with her match in a three-set marathon at No. 3 singles. Against Lovett, Arora flipped the script and secured the needed victory.

The strength at doubles has taken a true team mentality. That strength is in part due to singles natural Sashti, who plays No. 2 doubles with sophomore Grace Funston. “When I’m playing doubles, I try to use some of the same tactics I would use in singles, but I mostly try to avoid playing a ‘singles’ match,” said Sashti. “Since doubles is more about taking advantage of points at the net, I think of ways to set up my partner to win points. If I’m playing a singles match, I obviously only think about myself, but in doubles, I have to think about my partner as well.”

The Funston-Sashti duo clinched the region championship in a 7-5 third set tiebreaker. “Playing on a position on the team that is important makes playing matches even more fun and exciting,” said Sashti.” Although it can be a little stressful, like at the region tournament, I think the pressure and excitement help me play a better match.“


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