The Caesar Rodney tennis program has proven its dominance over the past few seasons, with each team not only putting together an impressive streak of undefeated seasons, but claiming state titles as well.
Heading into this year’s state championships, both the CR boys and girls teams enter as defending champions.
While both teams have some returning players with championship experience, they’ve also proven they create new standouts along the way.
The CR boys’ team posted a perfect 15-0 record, the seventh season in a row they’ve finished the regular season undefeated.
They also enter the state tournament as the three-time defending champions, having won five of the last six state title as well.
A young but impressive group of underclassmen led the way in singles play this season for the Riders, including returning players Rishi Gundakaram at 1st Singles, last year’s champion at 3rd Singles, David Haynes manning 2nd Singles this season and a newcomer at 3rd Singles in freshman Garrett Wrede.
Meanwhile, at doubles, the Riders had two new pairings in Cyrus Shanehsaz and Joseph Gravell (1st Doubles) and Yash Patel and Francis Tamesis (2nd Doubles).
Despite having a young team and some faces in new places, CR’s domination continued. Though, as Head Coach James Harvey says, adjusting to change well has helped the Riders reach the heights they have in this and in past seasons.
“Our last regular season loss came in 2010, that season we were 14-1,” Harvey said. “Personalities and talent are always changing from year to year, but as in past years we quickly developed a strong camaraderie and I feel this is really based on team leadership of returning players and only graduating two seniors per year.”
Harvey said the team’s main goal was to focus on play and know matter what the result, know they did their best when the match was over.
This year’s mix of veteran players and underclassmen who’ve grown with the program hope to continue the team’s legacy and win CR’s fourth straight state title when the tournament concludes next week.
“This team, again as in the past, has proven they can play well,” Harvey said. “ As for the postseason, the players will continue to stay focused, play well, encourage each other and enjoy this experience.”
Like the boys’ team, the Lady Riders also went undefeated increasing their own streak to eight straight unscathed years on the court.
Also like the boys, the CR girls’ team enters this year’s state tournament as the defending state champions.
After losing standout at 1st Singles Hannah Morris to graduation, senior Halle Parker filled that role nicely this season alongside fellow singles competitors, Natasha Sijan at 2nd Singles who has won two straight state titles and newcomer Nora Frederick at 3rd Singles.
At doubles, the returning 1st Doubles pairing of Katherine Tamesis and Micaela Thorogood picked up where they left off last season, along with 2nd Doubles pairing Chloe Mangubat and Piper Casey who took the place of the injured Caroline Pangle.
“Unfortunately, we did lose two members of last year’s team - Hannah graduated and Caroline has missed her entire senior season due to an ankle injury,” said Head Coach Zach Taylor. “However, our team has a lot of depth, Nora and Piper have stepped up and done a terrific job this season.”
After eight seasons of dominating tennis, Taylor believes this year’s team is special for it’s own reasons.
“What makes this team special is their commitment to each other and to the sport of tennis, I love that each girl on the team feels comfortable enough to have a conversation with any of their teammates, to joke around with them, to ask advice, or to challenge them,” Taylor said. “This team is also dedicated to playing tennis year-round. They are not satisfied by winning a state title last year and have continuously sought to improve themselves and to play at a higher level. Each girls truly enjoys playing tennis and it shows in their performance on the court.”
When it comes to to upcoming state tournament, the Lady Riders have their eye on the prize. A program’s past can have a huge effect on its future, as living up to expectations can be hard for some. Though, for the girls’ squad, they enter confident and prepared to carve their own legacy in the program’s history.
“Our past success has given each girl confidence that we can once again be state champions,” Taylor said. “Each day at practice, we know we are playing against some of the best tennis players in the state. The girls believe that if they can compete with each other, then they will be ready for the toughest matches that come in the postseason. Repeating as champions is a challenge the team is excited about and willing to embrace.”