By John Goralski
For more than three hours, Lady Knight tennis coach Robin Thompson proved that her lessons at varsity practices are more than just words.
On Sunday, Aug. 25, the high school coach partnered with a friend to push a pair of high school players to three sets and a tie breaker before losing in the finals of the women’s doubles brackets at the Kenny Hill Jr Memorial Tennis Tournament. She was finally toppled, but the coach out-lasted at least four of her former and present players.
How would you like to answer for that during next spring’s preseason practices?
“She really went toe-to-toe with some young ladies, and they really came close to winning it,” said tournament director Ken Hill Sr. “Every point was a long point because the ball just kept going back and forth. There were a lot of great shots, and it seemed like they just didn’t want the game to end.”
For Hill, the varsity coach’s run to the finals was a perfect example of what the annual tournament is designed to accomplish. As one of the final tennis events before classes begin this fall, it is designed to be competitive. But even more important is that it’s designed to be fun. It’s become a battle for bragging rights with the charm of a small tournament and the competition of a large one.
That’s just what Hill envisioned when he began the charity event 12 years ago when his son, a high school tennis captain, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep in the days leading up to graduation. Hill and his wife Laurie began the tournament to give teammates, family, and friends a chance to honor their son’s memory while celebrating his biggest love and raising money for a pair of local scholarships.
After a dozen years, it’s still going strong.
“What’s fun is that I can remember some of the high school players this weekend when they were playing as juniors in this tournament, and they still couldn’t get around the court,” said Hill. “Now, they’re the No. 1 or No. 2 players on the high school team, and it’s still a lot of fun.”
The tournament offers off-season work for incoming seniors like Alex Angelillo, Nate Mullins, and Susan Murphy as they prepare for their final varsity seasons. It helps underclassmen like Luke Pfanzelt, Kunal Kataria, Rianna Susco, Alex Barmore, Caroline Rodman, and Cassidy Race to position themselves for competition, and it allows ecent graduates like Mike Rabiej, Matt Downes, and Emily Sheehan to give back to the high school program.
It even allows up-and-coming players to hone their skills in the junior division and coaches to prove that they still have something to teach their young players.
Barmore was even able to advance into the finals of the women’s singles competition.
“It was fun to see how skilled they’ve all gotten over the years,” said Hill. “I’m not surprised that this has grown so much because we’ve worked really hard to keep it fun. I think that people keep coming because it’s a relaxed atmosphere.”
On the other hand, it is a competition that’s filled with tournament regulars. Megan Fitzgerald was a runner-up in two brackets last year but returned to capture the women’s singles title. She also partnered with MacKenzie Blair to win the doubles championship.
Jeremy Reichentahl was the main champion in the mens brackets with a title in the championship singles division and an upcoming finals match with Casey Barry against Ron Zeiger and Larry Tannenbaum to conclude the challenger doubles compettiion.
“We’ve kept it small, so it still has its character,” said Hill. “We haven’t gone crazy on advertising, but we still manage to get the right number of players. We get a good number of skilled players, and we got some new players this year that heard about it from others that really enjoyed it.”
Zeiger and Tannen-baum captured the title in the masters doubles competition. Eric Henne and Sue Henne teamed up for a victory in mixed doubles, and Shrenik Agrawal outlasted Rohan Katria in a split-set victory decided by tie breaker to capture the juniors title.
“It’s competitive, but it isn’t crazy,” said Hill. “Everybody’s just having a good time. Our No. 1 rule is to have fun, and that’s what we do.”