The Caesar Rodney girls tennis team finished the regular season unblemished before making their run through the state tournament and earning “Team of the Year” honors.
The standout at the end of the 14-0 season was senior Layla Shanehsaz, who took home the state title in the third singles group for the Lady Riders.
“Layla is a great all-around athlete,” said second-year coach Zach Taylor. “She is one of the most competitive players I have ever coached. Her will to win set the tone for our season and was infectious amongst the other girls on the team.”
Shanehsaz lost in the state final in 2011, motivating her to rededicate herself to tennis. Her state championship is the first individual girls tennis title for Caesar Rodney since 1988.
“The girls were such a family,” Shanehsaz said. “You love your sport, and you love the people you play with. It makes you want to stay that extra 10 minutes after practice.”
As a team, the Lady Riders finished second at the state tournament and won their sixth consecutive Henlopen conference title. This was also the third straight undefeated regular season for the girls tennis team.
“It was good for us to bond more and play better as a team,” Shanehsaz said.
After nearly winning individual and team state championships the year before, the team’s drive and focus made practices that much tougher.
For junior Sarah Candeloro, the team’s first singles player, the goal is to win a state championship – both as a team and as an individual. After her only loss came in the state final, Candeloro looked to improve her whole game by learning how to better finish sets and matches.
“We all are setting the same goals,” Candeloro said. “We’re training with everyone during the summer.”
During the season, Taylor saw the most improvement out of his doubles teams. The first doubles team of Caroline Bennett and Grace Widder made it to the state final after entering the season without much experience together, according to Taylor. The second doubles team, Aisha Hallman and Stephanie Rodgers, reached the state semifinals as well.
With only losing two seniors top players Candeloro and Sloan Barton returning, the team expects continued success heading into the 2013 season.
“We look at our team as a family,” Taylor said. “The girls are all proud and thankful to be a part of it.”