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Youthful girls tennis team thrives under new coach

With no seniors on the squad and a new coach, the Kennedy Catholic varsity girls tennis team exceeded expectations this season.

Kennedy was coached this season by Joe Milian, who has a wealth of tennis knowledge and experience. Milian, a first-year coach, is a tennis professional at Hardscrabble Club in Brewster and comes from a tennis playing family. His family owned and built the Briarcliff Racquet Club, which is now Club Fit. He played Eastern Tennis where he was ranked 10th in doubles and 45th in singles.

The Kennedy varsity team was comprised of nine players and they included sophomore Danielle Guida at first singles, sophomore Juliana Montuoro at second singles and freshman Courtney Manbeck at third singles.

Doubles teams consisted of junior team captain Christine Plant and fellow junior Bridget Terceira at first doubles, junior Valerie Sedano and freshman Sofia Valente at second doubles and freshmen Olivia Tota and Carley Gilmore at third doubles.

Kennedy started the season red hot, winning its first four matches.

“Their morale and team spirit was very strong,” Milian said of why he thinks the team experienced success. “The girls rooted each other on. Their attendance was very good. They showed up to their practices and were very respectful and attentive towards me. They listened to every word I said. They really put a lot of trust into me. A lot of them were new to the game, so they wanted to hear a good coach’s advice. But really the key to the team was the unity, the team spirit.”

The team finished the season with a solid record of 5-2-2.

“We didn’t have any stars, but we had more depth than perhaps any other team,” said Milian, who is 60 years old and has taught tennis since he was 19. “We could afford to lose a singles match or two then maybe beat them down the road in the doubles.”

And that is exactly what happened against Good Counsel.

On October 14, the Gaels staged a thrilling match with Good Counsel — a team they tied earlier in the season — where the winner would advance to the CHSAA playoffs in Staten Island the following day.

The Gaels knew that Good Counsel had two stars at No. 1 and 2 singles, so it would take a complete team effort to earn the win.

“They were undefeated throughout the whole season,” Milian said. “They had destroyed our No. 1 and 2 singles players the week before. But we had much more depth in the doubles department. We knew we were going to win all the doubles matches.”

As expected, the Gaels dropped all three singles matches, but their doubles teams picked up the slack and then some.

Kennedy trailed 3-0 overall and 24-7 on points at the end of the singles matches, but the first doubles team started out with an 8-1 victory and then second and third doubles both won 8-0 to tie the match at 3-3. The Gaels won the thrilling match based on points, 31-25.

The victory advanced the Gaels to the Catholic league playoffs in Staten Island on October 15 where they fell to St. Joseph’s 3-2.

With the Gaels trailing 3-1, the match had already been decided heading into Guida’s first singles contest. Guida won in an exhilarating match where she took the second and third sets in tiebreakers.

“[The team] greeted her with a standing ovation, which made her feel good and made me feel good,” Milian said. “That was like an indication of the team’s spirit and unity. They never gave up — they were like street fighters.”

Milian missed the first few weeks of the season due to an illness, but he believes if he had more time with the team they would have definitely been victorious in Staten Island.

“If I had spent the whole season with them, then I believe we would have won in Staten Island and still been alive today,” Milian said.

Milian will return his whole squad next year and he has high hopes for an even more successful season.

“The team is young and they’re going to be around for the next couple of years,” Milian said. “I would expect them to dominate in two years because of their enthusiasm.”

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