It was a balmy and breezy day, on the heels of a damp, gray, long Columbus Day weekend. Local Octobers are robust with colors and confusion. On this day, the DJO girls’ efforts needed to be clear and concise. For on this day, another chapter in the Knights’ long history and rivalry with Paul VI was the task at hand – a nemesis in recent years past for the school’s girls racquet team.
Entering this all-important WCAC match, the Knights were 5-2 at the mid-season point and 4-1 in conference play. Coach Eric Parson’s girls are led by a trio of four-year varsity seniors: Mary Claire Shaffer (pictured above), Claire Zorrilla (pictured right) and Mariel Cardenas. This year’s team has been fulfilling and often exceeding expectations of great promise as their 4-1 mark in WCAC contests would suggest. Nevertheless, Paul VI has always been a formidable foe and Parson’s tennis team went into the matchup with confidence and a sense of cautious optimism.
And so it began...
O’Connell’s #1 player is Mary Claire Shaffer. "M.C". is a pure power player, hammering her serve and hitting hard, flat groundstrokes off both sides. For her opponents, her style of play leaves little margin for error. On that day, her high-risk play reaped high reward as she posted an impressive 8-0 triumph. This match was never in doubt.
Playing #2 is Claire Zorrilla. "Z-girl" is the team's purest tennis talent. Potent from all areas of the court when she is on her game, there are few that can rival her powerful play. But it was not her day and she fell in what proved to be the tightest singles match of the day.
At #3 seed, Mariel Cardenas (pictured left) is the defending WCAC champion. Undoubtedly the team's most fervent competitor, she relies on quick reactions, court smarts, and self-belief to be the best. She went into this match undaunted and undefeated. There she would remain.
Playing #4 is junior Elizabeth Farrell (pictured right). Consistency is the key to her success. Easily moving the ball about the court, she frustrates and forces most of her opponents into mistakes and submission. However, on this occasion, her opponent proved to have very similar attributes and just a bit more pace.
Junior Bailey Gabrielle plays at #5. "B.G." comes to O’Connell via transfer this year and has been a key element to the team's success to this point. She has a quiet intensity on court, a point-by-point focus that allows her to make mid-match adjustments necessary to get positive results. Her resolve resulted in an 8-6 victory.
The Knights’ #6 is junior Alessandro Campbell. This long, tall lefty is a feisty competitor with a sneaky spin serve and solid backhand. It is her first year on the team, and she has contributed key wins to the cause. But it was not her day. She continues to grow as a player, and that particular match would go in the books as an important learning experience.
At #1 Doubles, Shaffer and Zorrilla have had admittedly mixed results. Having perhaps let a few matches get away in the early season, they were feeling quite a bit of pressure to capture this imperative point for the team. Where confidence is key and doubt the great enemy, the #1 team wavered slightly but refused to fail. They closed it out to win, 8-4.
At #2 Doubles, Mariel and Bailey are the team’s most consistent and confident team. However, they started slowly and got behind early in this one. Never short on effort, they competed hard and got back to even late in the match. After an inspired effort, they fell just short in the end.
That left it to #3 doubles, as has often been the case. It was the last match on the court with everything on the line. Farrell and her partner, Lula Hulahaisse, had been there before. They have experienced both the thrill of victory and the anguish of defeat in earlier encounters during the season. And that experience has made them stronger. Lula, in particular, played the best tennis of her life – giving the DJO girls the set, match, victory, and, in doing so, a 5-4 win over Paul VI.
Win or lose, Parson’s girls have the greatest respect for their rivals from Fairfax and all of their rival schools, for it is through these challenges that they learn to grow as players and as people.
Others on the 2014-15 edition of the O’Connell tennis team include junior Phoebe Retta, sophomore Karol Calvimontes, and freshmen Shalyn Dunton, Melanie Shaffer and Sarah Tran. Each make significant contributions to the team culture and perform positively in ISL, exhibition, and seeded play.
This is Tommy Orndorff and that was The Week That Was.