Some tennis players have a rap for bad attitudes and on-court shenanigans, often unable to find the joy in the sport. The four girls who represented Scarsdale and Edgemont at the New York State doubles tennis championships last weekend are just the opposite. Win or lose, they found a way to appreciate the moment with a smile and a laugh.
The Scarsdale duo of junior Zoe Tucker and Natalie Hu and the Edgemont senior pair of Ariella Zagorsky and Olga Lew-Kiedrowska had different experiences, but in they end they were both positive.
At states, Tucker and Hu won their two matches on the first day of competition to make the quarterfinals and guarantee a medal. Under a new format this year, the first-round losers were eliminated — there was no consolation tournament for them — and the top eight in singles and doubles played all the way through for placing, whereas last year only the top four were placed.
Tucker and Hu ended up with an eighth-place All-State finish by losing their final three matches over the second and third days of the tournament. The losses were disappointing, especially losing the final match in three sets, but the experience was one the girls, who are already excited to return to play together next fall, learned from and will build upon.
“They really wanted No. 7, but when they got to the medal ceremony they were so happy,” coach Jennifer Roane said. “It was their first time at states. It was a learning experience. They were already texting me on the ride home thanking me for the support and saying, ‘States 2020.’ It was nice to see that. If they were seniors it might have been a different story. They had nothing to be sad about. They did really well.”
Of the four Section 1 teams, three finished in the top eight and Edgemont was one set away from joining that group. The state tournament featured some of the best competition in quite some time.
“I haven’t been here in a few years and the level of tennis is outrageous,” Roane said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The Raiders opened the tournament with a 6-0, 6-1 over Great Neck North. “The first match they dominated,” Roane said. “They were just unbelievable. The communication was there, their shots were crisp and tight. They hardly made any errors.”
After rolling in the first round, the Raiders were down in both the first and second sets of the round of 16. The team from West Genesee didn’t look strong in the first round, but played much better against Scarsdale, throwing them off their game.
“When it came to pressure, Natalie and Zoe rose to the occasion,” Roane said of the 6-4, 7-5 win.
That was the biggest win of the draw for Scarsdale. “We got the momentum back and won that match,” Tucker said. “That was a big match for us. We fought for every point.”
The second round challenge was an early wake-up call for the Raiders.
“The first round team from Long Island didn’t come up to the net, just stayed at the baseline the whole time,” Roane said. “The second we didn’t come in and steamroll them, which is good. The closer you get to the finish line it’s not going to be a walk in the park. You have to play smart, good tennis.”
Hu called the match “tough and long,” but the win put them in the quarters. “We didn’t expect them to come out hitting like that,” she said. “We were startled at first, but it was a good fight. It wasn’t our best tennis, but we pulled it out.”
In the quarterfinals the next day, the Raiders played the Margolin sisters from Byram Hills for the second time this postseason. They had lost to them in the Section 1 semifinals 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 and then again at states 6-4, 6-2.
“I feel like that match was tougher to play because we already lost to them in three sets,” Tucker said “I think it was just hard because they’re from our section and that was the first time we were playing someone from Section 1. I think we were on such a rush of doing so well after winning both of our matches the day before.”
In the first top 8 backdraw match the Raiders were outsized and overpowered by a team from Shaker.
“They had a good size on Zoe, a good size on Natalie — even the coach had a good size on me — and he was the tennis director of Tri-City Fitness, where we were playing,” Roane said. “I said, ‘Boy, those girls look pretty strong,’ and he said, ‘One’s a junior, one’s a senior. They weightlift three days a week.’ We were getting pummeled. They walked off the court and said they did what they could. And they did. They played very well, but they couldn’t outpower these kids. It’s like playing against a linebacker.”
Shaker won 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the fifth-place match.
“Those girls were double our size,” Tucker said. “We were really intimidated by them and we heard they had a good fight against the first seed. We tried to do our very best. We weren’t down on ourselves. We did the very best we could do.”
Against Port Washington in the seventh-place match, the Raiders won the first set 6-2. Roane and the Raiders felt they were on their way to a victory.
“With Port Washington there was one stronger and one weaker,” Roane said. “With Scarsdale they were both strong players. You really couldn’t say one is weaker or stronger.”
The Raiders were a point away from the win in the second set, but lost in the tiebreaker 10-4. Then they lost the third set 6-3.
“The girl that was the weaker one was not going to touch the ball and the other girl moved across the court to every ball, which frazzled our girls,” Roane said.
The emotions from losing the final three matches were mixed.
“It was still a weird concept because we were so down on ourselves for losing the last three matches, but we were still the eighth doubles team in the state,” Tucker said. “We shouldn’t be down. It was our first time going to states. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t have high expectations. We just wanted to do our best and we did that.”
Next year the plan is simple. “We’re coming back for some revenge,” Tucker said.
Playing in the state tournament helped the Raiders step up their game and gave them a sense of what they need to do to succeed next year.
“We knew everyone was good and we were all fighting for those spots,” Tucker said. “Section 1 and Section 8 have that reputation. When other sections were doing well we had to realize they were very good. Being exposed to the other teams helps because next year if we get any team we know we still have to play our best. It was really good exposure.”
“We got to see the level of the people who placed above us,” Hu said. “We can see what they do better than us and improve for next year.”
Tucker, who played second singles as a freshman and first singles the last two years, played singles her first two postseasons. This year she opted to play with Hu, the team’s second singles player, whom she’s played with in doubles over the years. Unlike most singles players who team up for postseason, Tucker and Hu had an edge over the competition based on their familiarity with one another. They play doubles together and both train at Lake Isle.
“Right when the singles started to come to a close we were already practicing and getting so excited for the postseason,” Tucker said. “We worked so hard over the years practicing and playing doubles together that this was the moment we’d been waiting for for so long.”
There isn’t much the team can’t do when on the court together. “Zoe is very aggressive at net, which helps, and I guess I like to stay steady at the baseline,” Hu said. “We help each other out and we’re very supportive of each other.”
In the same way the veterans welcomed a young Tucker onto the team in 2017 — she said then-captains Lily Steckel and Phebe Denison could not have been more kind — Tucker made sure to make lone freshman Hu feel comfortable this fall.
“Now that I was in that position I wanted to do that,” Tucker said. “Ultimately she had an undefeated season, so she didn’t need it that much.”
Setting the tone from the end of tryouts and throughout the season can make or break a tennis players’ experience on the team. Hu appreciated the way her team embraced her. After all, it was her first time playing both out of age group and on a team.
“My goal was to figure out how it worked,” Hu said. “I didn’t know how the team aspect would be, but I had a lot of fun doing it. I felt a little pressure at first because I didn’t want to lose, but my teammates were there to help me and support me. The team had my back.”
Coach Roane was also there every step of the way for the team.
“She was amazing,” Tucker said. “I never felt so much support. Even if we were down she was the one getting us back in it. Even though we were supporting each other it was that extra little push that was really important for the round of 16. She was beyond supportive, but having her right on the court was the best. I think that was one of the best parts of the tournament. She really pushed us and we were so thankful.”
Scarsdale was 11-0 in the regular season, winning every singles and doubles match but a first singles match to Horace Mann. The team then swept the four rounds of the Section 1 team tournament to win its first championship prior to having a strong postseason in which four doubles teams and one singles player made the cut.
“It was a great season to start off my high school experience,” Hu said. “Our entire team was close, we all worked together to support each other and it was good taking the pressure off knowing my teammates were going to win their matches.”
For Edgemont, no matter what round Zagorsky and Lew-Kiedrowska made it to, the final loss or win would signal the end of an era. Not only were they both seniors, but they were part of a class of 10 seniors and three of those seniors were on the team for six years.
That final match came in the round of 16 on the first day of the tournament, a three-setter in which Edgemont had won the first set against a team from Pittsford Sutherland 6-4.
“They were down 5-0 in the second set and they looked at each other and shared a laugh and a smile,” coach Katie Feinstein said. “These girls are so positive. They’re so happy and fun.”
She added, “After the match they went out, they got ice cream.”
Pittsford Sutherland won the final two sets 6-0, 6-0.
Last year the Edgemont duo had placed third in the section, made the state quarterfinals and were considered top 8. This year they fell just one win shy of matching that feat.
“It was a bit sad,” Lew-Kiedrowska said. “We didn’t exactly get as far as we wanted to. We went in a bit confident and we were looking ahead. We were winning that second match 5-1, but the rest of the match didn’t go our way. It’s what might have been. It was our last season and we were already looking ahead to the possibilities, so we forgot ourselves in the moment.”
Edgemont had cruised in the opener, winning 6-0, 6-0 over a team from Seton Catholic, but the competition heated up quickly in the round of 16.
“I felt the doubles was at another level this year, solid,” Feinstein said. “A lot of singles girls from last year were playing dubs. We went out and we were playing well, hitting well. Similar to the Harrison match I felt like we were playing at the top of our game. The other team had a girl that was definitely taller and stronger and the other was a small, athletic lefty. We were playing our game and serving well. We were up 4-1 and we won 6-4. They were starting to sharpen up a bit. And then it just happened so fast.
“The other girls stepped it up and started playing better and we had a little lull. That lull turned into 6-0, 6-0. They outplayed us second half of the match for sure.”
Edgemont didn’t face Scarsdale in the Section 1 third-place match, defaulting after Zagorsky ran into a fence in the semifinals loss to Harrison the night before. The doctor recommended that if she didn’t need to play she shouldn’t, but had it been a meaningful match beyond seeding she could have played.
“There was no need to push it because we had the next tournament,” Feinstein said. “We felt it would be better to go into this tournament as healthy as possible.”
Having gotten the quarterfinals last year, Edgemont hoped to follow a similar path of improvement like their predecessors. According to Lew-Kiedrowska, not only was the team looking ahead, but, “I think it was a combination of that and us not playing our best.”
She added, “It was still a lot of fun. There’s always sadness from when we arrived there because we knew it was our last weekend anyway, so going in that was a bit upsetting. We also knew we had nothing to lose. We wanted to play our game and make the best of it.”
Zagorsky knew going in the competition was going to be fierce.
“I think a lot more followed our example with top singles players teaming up to play doubles,” she said. “Coming in we knew the doubles draw was going to be more intense. Every point we won we were grateful for.”
Lew-Kiedrowska moved from Poland to Edgemont as a sixth-grader, but didn’t join the tennis program until ninth grade. She missed the varsity tryout, so she played JV that year. She jumped right into the singles lineup as a sophomore and played first singles this season.
“Olga got so much better from last year to now,” Feinstein said. “It wasn’t just her work on the court. She’d been running every morning. It’s that extra work being up at 5 a.m. running 5 miles with her mom. That’s what it takes to get to this point to excel. Not just play No. 1, but to excel, and she ran away with it this year.”
Zagorsky has been on varsity since seventh grade when she debuted playing doubles with Iris Lin. She worked her way to first singles and played second singles this fall. Zagorsky and Lin were part of a class of 10 seniors, so it’s the end of an era as Feinstein saw them through their entire careers. She had been hired in 2012 to replace Jim San Marco two seasons before the seniors were in seventh grade.
“It’s not even the loss,” Feinstein said. “It was it being over with this group. You build these relationships and that era that’s these 10 seniors, the heart that’s been here a long time, these awesome girls.”
In 2009, Christine Ho and Casey Rogovin, then sophomores, made states for the first time, placing sixth. They were the runner-up the next two years. Their senior year in 2011, Jim San Marco’s final year as coach, Alexa Goldberg and Tomo Iwasaki, then a sophomore and freshman, respectively, placed third at states. The next year, Feinstein’s first year as coach in 2012, they were second and by Goldberg’s senior year they were crowned state champs. As a senior the following year, when Zagorsky joined the varsity team, Iwasaki was a finalist in the state singles tournament in 2014.
After that the players and the program began to feel like they belonged to Feinstein, who has a different coaching style from San Marco, her mentor from whom she still draws many of his best sayings and philosophies.
“I had inherited Tomo and Alexa — I had adopted them — when they were in the prime of their career,” Feinstein said. “The first year they lost in the finals in every tournament — conferences, sectionals and states to the Cruz girls — and the next year they won in my second year of coaching.”
After three years not having anyone at states, Zagorsky and Lew-Kiedrowska made it as juniors.
The two years of conference, section and state tournaments with Zagorsky were Lew-Kiedrowska’s lone doubles experiences. It was something she adapted to and enjoyed.
“Normally I’m on the court all by myself,” Lew-Kiedrowska said. “Having her there she’ll make me laugh when I’m down and push me to do better. It’s really amazing, especially since she knows me so well and we have so much fun together.”
Playing for the high school was much more than tennis for Lew-Kiedrowska, who called it “a community.”
“As we’ve grown and become the older ones it’s a really nice feeling to be able to give back and help the community and the younger players,” Lew-Kiedrowska said. “Having that with girls you see every day for two months is really nice.”
Zagorsky came onto varsity as an eighth-grader with Iris Lin and Alexis Chan, who ended being Edgemont’s No. 1 doubles team the past couple of years. They’ve been reminiscing all season about how far they have come on and off the court.
“It’s hard to process that my Edgemont varsity career is over,” Zagorsky said. “I’ve built so many friendships through it and it’s been such a huge part of my life over the past six years. The goal was to keep it going as long as possible.”
Finding a partner like Lew-Kiedrowska was a dream come true for Zagorsky, who’d played with several teammates over the course of her career.
“Doubles is especially fun because after a long season of playing singles we’re able to join together and complement each other,” Zagorsky said. “We’ve really seen the improvement over the last two years. We’ve had some matches that have really shown how much we’ve grown as doubles players, as tennis players. It’s meaningful to have states as our last experience.”
Playing for Feinstein, a former state doubles player herself, was the best coach Zagorsky could have asked for.
“Coach Katie has been a huge support system for me the last six years,” Zagorsky said. “I can’t imagine having a coach who cares more about her players. She created a team where everyone can be comfortable being themselves and she made tennis enjoyable. I can’t imagine another coach being able to do that. This year we were all crying coming off the court after this long journey.”
Neither player is sure if college tennis is in her future, but it’s a consideration depending where they end up.
“I am academically aiming higher than I could achieve tenniswise,” Lew-Kiedrowska said. “I applied early to Stanford. If I get in that would be amazing, but I would not be able to play tennis for them. There are other schools where I might play.”
Zagorsky said she is “going between both possibilities,” but said no matter what happens she’ll either play varsity or club, not quite ready to put the racket down.
And she’ll be smiling all the while.