East Greenwich and Smithfield, both unbeaten in the regular season, met each other in the final for the second year in a row Monday afternoon. And for the second year in a row, Smithfield emerged the victor, clinching the state championship when EG number one singles Aleksandra Drljaca lost to Smithfield’s Jenna LaBarre.
For Drljaca, it was deja vu all over again - the two girls met in last year’s final and just like last year, Drljaca won the first set (6-2) but lost the next two (7-5, 6-3). The sophomore - like junior LaBarre - one of the top high school players in the state, was philosophical about the loss.
“I think now that we’ve been runner up we’ll definitely have a bigger drive, just a bigger motivation,” she said. “I’m just so proud of my team.”
Team captain Emily Rapoza, a senior, was also proud of the team’s effort. “We played our hearts out,” she said. “No regrets whatsoever. We had a great season.”
“No regrets at all,” echoed co-captain Jamie Halpern, also a senior. “We did what we set out to do and left it all out here. We played really well.”
Halpern played first doubles, just like last year, but with a new partner - junior Karleigh Caramango. Of their match, which went to three sets, Halpern said, “I can honestly say we played our heart out. … We wanted it, it was just a matter that they had better shots.”
EG’s second singles player Heather Shen fell down during the first set in her match against Evelyn Miller. After a short time out, play resumed, but a few minutes later, Shen’s strings broke, causing another short delay. She lost the first set 6-1 but came back a bit in the second set, 6-4.
In fourth singles, Kerri Whelan defeated Olivia Ruthven, 6-3, 6-1. For Whelan, it was gratifying to win after losing at doubles in last year’s final. It was her doubles team’s loss that ended that final.
“I was determined to win,” said Whelan, “not for me but for the team.”
At third singles, Smithfield’s Ruby Miller and EG’s Elizabeth Blessing were playing a third set when play was suspended because Smithfield had won four matches for the title.
Third doubles team Alexandra Fugere and Haruka Shimizu came from behind to win their match. They credited a scrimmage last week against D1 team Mount St. Charles for giving them the confidence to stay in the game. In that earlier match, the girls dropped the first set then won the next two.
“That’s what happened today,” said Fugere, “so that showed us that we could come back and win the second two.”
“And we knew we could win three-set matches,” added Shimizu.
Second doubles team Emily Rapoza and Julia Waicberg tried hard to copy Fugere and Shimizu’s win. After losing their first set, the duo pushed the second set to a tie break, falling to Sarah Thompson and Sarah Goodwin 6-3, 7-6, with a tie-break score a close 8-6.
EG Coach Marc Brocato remarked on just how close the whole match was.
“We were essentially winning five out of seven matches,” he said of the time after most players had completed a set. “Then they just turned the tide. Tennis is such a momentum game.”
Still, Brocato was impressed with his team, which beat Cranston West 4-0 to make it to the finals and was 16-0 on the season. The Avengers were 202-4 in individual matches during the regular season over the past two years.
“There’s not one single match that I can look at that I could say, ‘You know what, we really just didn’t come out to play,'" Brocato said of the final.
"My kids played their tails off. I’m proud of them. Smithfield is a better team," he said. "We would have had to play above our heads in order to beat them. We played great. We had to play superstar in order to beat them. They’re such a good team and it just didn’t work out today.”
Jenna LaBarre, S, defeated Aleksandra Drljaca, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3; Evelyn Miller, S, defeated Heather Shen, 6-1, 6-4; Ruby Miller, S, vs. Elizabeth Blessing, EG, 1-6, 6-4, 3-1 (suspended); Kerri Whelan, EG, defeated Olivia Ruthven, 6-3, 6-1; Noelle Tiberi and Julie Reddy defeated Jamie Halpern and Karleigh Caramagno 4-6, 6-4, 6-4; Sarah Thomson and Sarah Goodwin, S, defeated Julia Waicberg and Emily Raposa, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6); Alexandra Fugere and Haruka Shimizu, EG, defeated Ashley Frezza and Rebeca Carlone, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.