For the first time since 2008, the Ithaca girls tennis team won the Southern Tier Athletic Conference (STAC) tournament. It was a tightly contested 4-3 final against powerhouse Seton Catholic, and now, the Little Red will head into the Section IV tournament with plenty of momentum and a 14-0 record this season.
Getting to the STAC finals was its own battle, especially for the team’s first singles player, Kelsea Mitchell. In the STAC semifinals, Mitchell’s victory came in a match that lasted for over three hours, and she had to fight back from five match points after losing the first set.
“I was just playing as hard as I could,” Mitchell said. “There was nothing to lose because I had already been down by so much. My team was all out there watching me and supporting me. So, I just fought as hard as I could.”
Unfortunately, Mitchell was unable to come away with a win in the finals against her Seton Catholic opponent, but her team was able to pull through without needing a victory from their top player, which meant a lot to Mitchell.
“I love my team. It was so fun,” Mitchell said. “We all support each other so much, so I just knew they were all there supporting me. We’re all there for each other and play for each other.”
For the sectional tournament, though, Mitchell will transition to doubles, with coach Mari Mitchell adding that Kelsea is “a doubles player through-and-through.” Kelsea reached states as a doubles player last year and “loves it so much more than singles,” leading to a lot of excitement for her heading into the tournament.
Her partner will be Barbara Viteri, a freshman who was on the varsity team last year. She’s had a great season, going 12-2 primarily as the third singles player. Like her partner, Viteri is eager to transition to doubles.
“It’s really exciting,” Viteri said. “I was on the team last year, so I have a lot of experience and I already have a bond with Kelsea, so it won’t be too different or extreme. It’s going to be nice, and we’re going to play very well together.”
Playing singles this season has allowed Viteri to push herself to her limits, and that experience has allowed her to grow as a player before returning to the doubles role.
Kelsea’s partner last season was Adele Giovannoni. However, Giovannoni has really come into her own as a singles player this season, going 11-1 in the role.
Her most important victory came in the STAC finals, where she was the only one of four singles players to come away with a win, ultimately making a difference in the 4-3 victory.
“I think it was really important,” Giovannoni said. “I know I was second singles, so I played next to one of the singles players who lost and her losing motivated me a lot because I knew it would mean a lot to her also because we’re really close. I think for the team, it also meant a lot. Personally, it meant a lot because last year I lost, so this year I’m really happy.”
She’ll be one of two singles representatives for the Little Red in the postseason, as each team is allotted two doubles teams and two singles players. The other is freshman Charlotte Hay, who primarily played doubles but is transitioning to singles after a senior left the team during the season.
Being a part of a team that’s undefeated in her first year has been a great experience for Hay.
“I think it’s a great part of the season to just add on to all the great wins that we’ve had,” Hay said. “It’s important to me, obviously, because it’s my first year on the team. It makes me feel more settled in.”Giovannoni is beaming with confidence after the team’s huge win over Seton Catholic.
“I’m expecting both of us to make it to states right away,” Giovannoni said. “I have really strong hopes for both of us. I’m really excited to do it with Charlotte also. I also want the doubles to do really well. I think all of us have a really great chance.”
Rounding out the playoff lineup will be a doubles team of juniors Tess Crane and Anna Cohen, with Mitchell leaning on their experience to help complete the playoff team.
Coach Mitchell sees this undefeated season as the culmination of a two-year process, as last year was her first coaching the team. She dedicated her debut season to building the physical fitness of her players. This year was all about strategy and the mental part of tennis. Putting those two things together has made her team a force to be reckoned with.
The chemistry between coach and team is important in any sport, and that is definitely evident on this team, considering the amount of success they’ve had in Mitchell’s second year.
“It’s really exciting. These girls, a lot of them have been working since they were young, and it’s just really nice to be able to support young girls,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s really important for them to see a female coach and role model. So, I think we just have a mutual respect in that way, supporting each other.”
Supporting each other is a theme throughout this program, no matter who you talk to. That environment has fostered success this season, and the Little Red will look to carry its momentum into the sectional tournament, which begins on Thursday.
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