SAGVT Strikes Again, 2x State Champs

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Sewickley hoists the WPIAL championship trophy overhead after beating Knoch High School 3-2. (SAGVT Team/Sewickley Academy)

Ella Sanfilippo, Arts Editor

Knoch High School’s Laura Greb sent a forehand long, and the whole building went quiet. It was the last point of the deciding match for the state championship title at Hershey Racquet Club, and Sewickley Academy wanted a repeat. A finger went up, the ball was called out. A beat, and SA’s girls varsity tennis team and all the support they had brought along erupted. They had done it again, Sewickley had taken the state title for the second year in a row.

The Sewickley Academy Varsity Girls Tennis team contributes their two consecutive PIAA AA State Championship victories to the supportive environment the team fosters. Described by team members as “close, resilient, and competitive”, “always wanting more”, and “killin’ the game”, it truly is a team fueled by the heart of its members and their drive for success.

Tennis is an individual sport at its core, and many players don’t have much experience playing on a team. Junior and team co-captain Evelyn Safar, who has been playing tennis her whole life, said, “I was really excited to get that chance [to play on a team] in high school, and because tennis is an individual sport in junior competition, playing for SA was the only real opportunity I had. So I joined the team, and haven’t looked back since.”

Tennis’ individual nature may lead some to believe a true team mentality is out of reach, especially since any one player’s score isn’t affected by any other team players’ matches; this isn’t the case with the SA girls team.

“We still support and cheer for each other like it does [influence our own matches],” a junior said, “because all those individual scores have to come together to bring the team a win.”

SAGVT poses on the bus after winning the state semi-final match against Lower Moreland at Hershey Racquet Club. (SAGVT Team/Sewickley Academy)

Junior and co-captain Simran Bedi said that the team mentality is something that makes the SA girls tennis unique. “We are all super close and super competitive; we want to have fun, but we also want to win,” she said.

The small size of the team is another thing that makes it special. A junior on the team said, “we really get to know each other in a way that the bigger teams might not get the chance to.”

The incredible hard work of the team is exemplified in their successes, including their back-to-back state championship titles in 2018 and 2019, “which just feels amazing” as one player said.

Though impressive titles and big wins are very rewarding for players on the team, Safar described one of the most rewarding parts of being on the team as “the new friendships and bonds we’ve developed along the way. Getting to play alongside girls who all want to win just as badly as I do and who are all willing to go the extra mile for the team is really awesome. We all inspire each other to play better, and our success really just highlights that.”

Sophomore Sana Singh agrees, saying the most rewarding part of being on the team has been “improving my game and making new friendships.”

Head coach Whitney Snyder, who has coached the SA girl’s tennis team since 1992, played perhaps the most important role in developing the team into the dominating force they are today. Over his time with this team, and after watching them lose in the state semi-finals in 2017, Snyder has seen the girls really push to reach the potential he knew they always had.

“I’ve seen the tremendous effort they’ve put in, not only to their individual game but just how unselfish they are to one another, which has enabled the team to come through in really close matches when other teams may not have pulled it out,” Snyder said.

The secret to this team’s success really seems to be their competitive attitude and upbeat atmosphere. The girls work incredibly hard to improve their individual game but still maintain a very strong team spirit.

Snyder believes this is due to the hard work of the captains, all of whom are juniors this year and have been playing since their freshman year. Captains Evelyn Safar, Simran Bedi, and Victoria Keller have had a huge role in shaping the team. “Their experience of being on the team for three years, both on and off the court, kind of sets the culture, the expectations, and the accountability that’s looked to [by the underclassmen].”

Between the phenomenal leadership of their captains to the hard work and determination on the court, the girls and Coach Snyder have developed a team capable of achieving their goals and more. Snyder said, “The Sewickley Academy team has a tremendous belief in one another, and they know it’s really all about relationships and that if they trust one another, good things can happen.”

This year’s championship tennis team. Left to right, back row: Assistant Coach Al Novak, Sofia Smith (grade 10), Roshni Thakkar (grade 10), Milla Ivanova (grade 10), Elim Chen (grade 10), Sana Singh (grade 10), Maria Silvaggio (grade 9), Head Coach Whitney Snyder. Front row: Evelyn Safar (grade 11), Emma DiSantis (grade 11), Simran Bedi (grade 11), Victoria Keller (grade 11), Christina Walton (grade 11), Aleena Purewal (grade 11). (Sewickley Academy)