The first Southern Tier Athletic Conference girls tennis championship in Horseheads history was a combined effort in many ways.
Girls in every grade from eighth to 12th contributed to a 16-0 season where the mix of talent in singles and doubles was essential.
“Historically, since I’ve been with us, we’ve won with our depth,” Horseheads coach Dan Palmer said. “Once again that was true this year.
“We had three doubles teams that went undefeated. That was a good indication of how deep we can go. Where other schools may have a few really good players, we tend to have a well-balanced squad right through player 10.”
Horseheads’ depth was evident Tuesday in the Blue Raiders’ 4-3 victory at Vestal in the STAC finals. Last year, Vestal beat Horseheads by that same score in the championship meet.
The Horseheads doubles teams of senior Mary Beth LeRose/eighth-grader Tatum Benesh, sophomore Nidhi Shah/junior Mickenzie Palmer, and juniors Shannon Donovan/Chloe Johnson all won Tuesday.
The teams of LeRose/Benesh and Donovan/Johnson rallied for three-set victories after dropping the opening set, which was a theme during the meet.
“It was really worrisome,” Palmer said. “We beat them 6-1 on Sept. 14, but we beat them at home and I was leery that we just had a really good day and Vestal was going to be ready for this final. And Vestal really was. We lost five first sets out of seven.
“The girls really had to keep their cool and use some new strategies and put the first sets behind them.”
Jillie Rathbun, a senior, gave Horseheads its lone singles victory.
The other singles players who took the court Tuesday and throughout the season were freshman Meredith Braiman at No. 1, senior Elena DeLuccia at No. 2 and sophomore Katie Reasons at No. 4.
The emergence of Braiman this season was a key.
“We had all returning people in those singles spots. She filled those No. 1 shoes very quickly by beating some notable opponents,” Palmer said.
Horseheads competed in the Section 4 Class A tournament Thursday at Elmira Free Academy, the Raiders’ final team meet of the season.
An unbeaten record, a 10th straight STAC West crown and the conference title already made this group uniquely special.
“It’s a milestone for my career and every girl that I’ve taught here,” Palmer said of the overall title. “It’s nice for the seniors, especially the ones who have been in the program for more than four years. It’s another nice thing for the juniors and sophomores to set goals and do it again next year.”
STAC golf meet Tuesday
After capturing its third consecutive Section 4 Class A championship last week at Soaring Eagles Golf Course, the Horseheads golf team is hoping to celebrate at the Horseheads course again.
Soaring Eagles will host the STAC championship meet Tuesday. The meet, which was originally scheduled for Maple Hill Golf Club in Groton, is set for a 10 a.m. shotgun start.
Vestal won the title last year at the Country Club of Ithaca after sharing the championship with Horseheads two years ago. Horseheads finished five shots behind Vestal last year.
At the Class A tournament on Oct. 1, Horseheads finished one shot ahead of Vestal, 421-422, for the title. Josh Dimon of Horseheads shared medalist honors at that meet along with Maine-Endwell’s David Gilinsky.
Dimon lost to Vestal’s Rich Pedro in a playoff to determine the individual champion at last year’s STAC meet. Pedro, a senior, is scheduled to defend his title Tuesday.