Lady Indians lock South tennis title
Son takes third at conferences
First-year head coach Stefanie Riddle and assistant coach Kelsey Waite had an impressive Henlopen South title streak to defend when they took over the Indian River High School girls’ tennis team this spring. And last Wednesday, they did just that when they locked in the program’s fifth consecutive division title.
“That was the goal from the beginning of the year, so we’re pretty excited that it happened,” said Riddle of continuing the long-tenured title run.
Heading into their final match of the season at 9-3, the Lady Indians needed to beat Milford for the second time this season to take the title. The match was rained out, however, and with conference championships scheduled just two days later, Indian River was awarded the win using the same score from the previous matchup — 5-0.
After being crowned South champs in just their first year heading up the program, even some former IR tennis coaches took note of Riddle’s and Waite’s early success, including 2013 coach Conor McMullen, who led the girls to two South titles during his two-year tenure.
“They’ve done a great job carrying on the winning tradition of IR tennis,” said McMullen of his successors. “The future looks bright.”
After claiming the South, the girls geared up for Henlopen Conference championships, held at Sea Colony last weekend, where every player was seeded and first-singles player Seung Son took third place.
“Considering she plays the tough first position, ending her season beating the second seed in the conference is a major accomplishment,” Riddle said, commending Son’s achievement. “As a coach, I am so proud of her mental toughness this year. She had a lot of close matches that she won due to her focus and commitment to tennis.”
In the first-singles bracket, Son went down early, 5-1, facing Smyrna junior Katherine Clark, but rallied back to even the match at six and eventually notched a 7-6 win. She went on to claim the third-place medal in the next set, with a score of 6-2.
“One of her focuses this season was her mental game,” Waite explained. “Seung demonstrated determination and mental toughness by coming back to win, 7-6, 6-2 — a huge personal victory. Matches like this shape an athlete. We are very excited to see Son continue to grow and evolve as a player in the upcoming state competition, as well as next season.”
In first-doubles play, seniors Ashlyn Calhoun and Emily Engh advanced all the way to the semi-finals before being knocked out by Dover’s Emma Patterson and Lauren Hilderbrand. For second doubles, junior Zoe Richard and sophomore Hannah Shultie also advanced to the semi-finals after getting past Polytech and Seaford but fell to powerhouse Caesar Rodney’s Jessica Ament and Clare Mangubat, who would go on to take first place for the Lady Riders. Notably, Caesar Rodney finished first in every bracket in the tournament.
“That was pretty impressive for everyone to go into the tournament this weekend as a seed, so we had a really good chance to do well,” said Riddle of the tournament setup, for which Caesar Rodney had been seeded first in every bracket. “Everyone was either second or fourth. If they were fourth, then they ended up playing Caesar Rodney before the finals.”
“Through blood, sweat and tears, our players needed both mental and physical toughness,” Waite added. “The last two weeks of the spring season were especially intense. I am so proud of our teams.”
Historically, Indian River has struggled to get past the Henlopen North rival Riders, who have dominated the conference for years. That’s something Riddle and Waite will look to overcome in the future as they move forward with the program.
Waite, who took over as head coach of the boys’ team this season, hopes to again remain as an assistant coach for the girls next season, to build upon the coaching duo’s early success.
“It’s nice, because we clicked from the get-go,” Waite described of the coaching chemistry. “So it was really nice for us to be able to work together [and] bounce ideas off each other.”
While both coaches are hoping to be able to generate program interest and develop more year-round tennis players to be able to compete with larger programs like CR’s, they’ll first focus on Son as she prepares to be the only Indian River player headed for the state tournament this Saturday at the University of Delaware.
For updates on Son’s performance at states, follow us on Twitter @CPointSports.