Written by Coach Austin
Deerfield’s varsity tennis girls met up with visiting Andover for a windy match on Wednesday afternoon. This match should have come with a warning for any spectators with heart conditions. There was no shortage of intense drama, inspiring tennis, and grit from players on both sides of the net. The 5-4 final result in Deerfield’s favor scarcely tells the story of this epic contest.
Doubles featured compelling matches at every position. Ashley Manning ’19 and Tori Waterfall ’19 had the unenviable task of taking on Andover’s top pair– Nicole Lee and Sofia Poncel. Theirs was a competitive match all the way through, but ultimately Andover found more rhythm and consistency. Isha Rao ’22 and Catalina Llorente ’19 continued to develop rapport as a second doubles team. The two struck winning volleys and electrifying shots down the line to cement an 8-1 win– Deerfield’s first of the day. Third doubles was the closest contest of the three. Emma Weech ’21 and Sophia Genender ’20 had to hold off a furious comeback effort from Andover’s Bhandari and Chen to close out the match, 8-6.
As the singles phase of the day began, it quickly became apparent that nothing was going to come easily for the Deerfield squad; every game and point had to be earned. Andover’s dominance around the NEPSAC circuit over the last decade is a product of their disciplined, well-coached players. Sweat and perseverance were required in equal measure to take down this Andover squad.
At first singles, Isha Rao dominated the first set. Her big first serve and knack for strategically setting up a point made her a formidable opponent. In the second set, Andover’s Nicole Lee made adjustments and battled for four wins. All the same, Isha settled in and delivered a 6-4 win with her relentless baseline play and lethal volleys.
Ashley Manning’s second singles battle featured compelling, often lengthy, baseline exchanges. Ashley’s forehand is a force that kept this match close all day. In the end, Andover took this match in two very close sets. Tough breaks and exhausting points did not weaken Ashley’s resolve for a minute. She battled fiercely to the final point. At third singles, Emma Weech registered three wins in the first set before finding traction in the second. Down a break, Emma got more aggressive and hit some astonishing winners to even the set at 6-6. In the end, the tiebreaker went to Andover’s Hannah Chen, 7-4.
The pinnacle of the day’s drama arrived as it became clear that Deerfield needed to secure two more points to win the match. Sophia Genender had struggled early on, dropping her first set 1-6. The second set appeared to be trending that way too. What happened next was a miraculous display of mental toughness. Down 2-5 in the second set, Sophia began stringing together wins. Suddenly she’d evened the set at 5-5. Punishing approach shots and stunning the crowd with winners on return of serve, Sophia won the set 7-5! Having forced a third set tiebreaker, she turned on the afterburners and secured the wildly improbable comeback for Deerfield.
All eyes turned to Tori Waterfall’s fifth singles match on the other side of the pagoda. Having won a tight first set 7-5, Tori met a doubly determined Andover opponent in the second. Each player broke the other’s serve in this set, with Andover’s Sofia Poncel answering 7-5. The third set tie-breaker veered Andover’s way initially. Down three points, Tori settled down and took several points to take the lead. With a booming baseline shot, Tori clinched the win for Deerfield!
The victory marks the first time since 2010 that the Big Green girls varsity tennis team has defeated the Big Blue.
The team improves to 5-0 and looks ahead to another formidable opponent this weekend. Travelling south to Lakeville, CT, Deerfield will face off with the defending New England Champion, Hotchkiss Bearcats.
- Isha Rao, W 6-0, 6-4
- Ashley Manning, L 4-6, 4-6
- Emma Weech, L 3-6, 6-6 (4-7)
- Sophia Genender, W 1-6, 7-5, 10-3
- Tori Waterfall, W 7-5, 5-7, 10-7
- Catalina Llorente, L 2-6, 1-6
Order of Finish: 1, 6, 2, 4, 3, 5
- Manning/ Waterfall, L 4-8
- Rao/ Llorente, W 8-1
- Weech/ Genender, W 8-6
Order of Finish: 2, 1, 3