Tennis and Gymnastics Fly Under the Radar

By Spencer Schultz and Scottie O'Bryan

Staff Writers


Jamesville-DeWitt High School students will regularly attend sports such as basketball, football, baseball, or lacrosse, while sports like tennis and gymnastics are left out of the spotlight. But that is fine by those two teams, because they want to remain focused on winning.

Senior Ariana Hege, senior captain Isabella Melton, junior Kim Driesen, senior Brooke LaFlair and the rest of the J-DHS Varsity Girls Tennis team can all agree winning is the top priority. The tennis team, coached by science teacher Eugene Sul, was undefeated last year and hopes to continue their winning streak well into this year. “In (Section III), it’s not really hard to be undefeated because our team is well developed in skill level compared to the other teams, but it definitely takes some time,” says Driesen. Although the team wants to keep winning games, there are also individual goals. LaFlair said goal is to win the rest of her matches, because she hasn’t lost one yet.

In order to keep their winning stride, the team had to defeat Christian Brothers Academy Sept. 10, in a very even game against their main rival. The game was intense, since according to Laflair and Driesen, many CBA parents were acting inappropriately. “There’s some parents (from CBA) that don’t follow the rules; they yell things out when they shouldn’t,” says Driesen. LaFlair agrees, adding, “(CBA) went down last match and the parents of CBA got involved. They told one of the girls on our team to (omitted: inappropriate comment) and it got intense.” Coach Sul says there are always some unruly parents from CBA, but the team talked and prepared for it. On Oct. 1, J-DHS hosted CBA in a tense rematch with J-DHS Athletic Director John Goodson in attendance. J-DHS came out on top 5-2 and according to freshman Jungyun Kim the parents were “involved.”

Aside from the CBA rivalry, the team will face tough competition during the sectional tournament. "The competition is definitely going to be very tough. I was looking at the sectional schedule and our biggest rival heading into sectionals is Oneida. That's definitely going to be the team to beat," says Coach Sul. CBA, Marcellus and Indian River will also be in the sectional mix.

Although most of the team agrees that winning is a top priority, a few players have high expectations to reach the state tournament. "I think most of us can make it to states, hopefully," says Driesen. Players such as Melton agree, saying that states is her “dream." On the other hand, Coach Sul realizes it is very difficult to make states. "My top doubles team (of sophomore Maya Pollock and Kim) has an outside chance of making states even though this is their first year playing together, and states is still a long ways off. So we are hoping for the best, although usually the doubles is very competitive, but it will be very exciting for the two of them."

Coach Sul also says they are in "rebuild mode" this year since the team only has three returning starters from last year. The team lost a total of 10 seniors from last year, according to Melton. However, the undefeated record shows that the team is doing exceptionally well for a "rebuilding year."

Girls Varsity Tennis isn’t the only fall sport at J-DHS that is hoping to be undefeated for consecutive seasons; the J-D/Fayetteville-Manlius High School Varsity Girls Gymnastics team, called the Rammets, have successfully stayed undefeated for the past 13 seasons, and is hoping to extend it another season.

Part of the reason for the 13-season winning streak may be because of the team chemistry.  The girls on the team all “care about each other,” says junior captain Anyi Liebler-Bendix.  “We’re like sisters,” says freshman Payton Riley who has been competing on the team since seventh grade. Freshman Marissa DiGennaro adds, "we're all a family. We're on a team together and we have to deal with each other." According to Riley, “We always cheer each other on during meets” and Leibler-Bendix says they are “one of the loudest teams.”   

The support of teammates is going to help the gymnastics team reach their goal of qualifying for sectionals and states. Leibler-Bendix is very confident in her team’s chances of making sectionals; “I know our team is definitely going to make it to sectionals and I’m confident that some will even move on to states.”  DiGennaro, who is a first year gymnast, is hoping to make sectionals in beam. DiGennaro adds that the Rammets will be one of the best teams to compete at sectionals. However, Whitesboro and New Hartford will be tough to beat. “It will be tough but that’s what makes it fun,” says Leibler-Bendix.  For the Rammets, sectionals will be October 24, at CNY Gymnastics Centre.

A few gymnasts also wish to reach beyond sectionals, to the state tournament. Riley, who has made states for the Rammets since seventh grade, says her goal is making it again. Many teammates believe Taylor Fishkin, from Fayetteville-Manlius, can make states, as can J-D eighth grader Ana Dieroff.

Usually the J-DHS Red Rams and the FM Hornets don’t play well together since they’re huge rivals in many sports. The mixed team is no problem though; it’s actually beneficial, according to many of the gymnasts. “The girls all work great together, and I’ve never had a problem with the combining of the two schools,” says Head Coach Tracy Fishkin.There is already that chemistry between some of the girls from the two schools, because they compete together on club teams outside of school.  “It makes it easier because many of them play on gymnastics teams with girls outside of school,” says Riley. “It helps out because otherwise we would have a very small team," says Leibler-Bendix.  DiGennaro agrees; “it’s not about the school you go to,” she says. The team gets along so well, people “would not even realize we have a combined team,” according to Coach Fishkin.

Credit to Coach Fishkin and the other coaching staff must be given for making such a successful team out of two powerhouse school districts. “Our coaches are great and they are always pushing us to try new skills,” adds Leibler-Bendix. “The coaches are encouraging,” adds DiGennaro. The captains, Leibler-Bendix and senior Cheyenne Danforth, also act as coaches, especially to the younger players. “The captains always motivate and lead us,” says Riley.

Keeping a winning streak alive is hard enough to do for any team alone, but to have a winning streak extend for more than a season for both the tennis and gymnastics teams is almost impossible. For sure, the J-D community will be rooting for the teams to keep on winning.