PORT CHESTER – When conference tournaments began to start up a little over a week ago, Laina Campos and Vanessa Ciano were excited.
Not just because of the higher stakes and competition involved, but because it meant that last year’s reigning Section 1 doubles champions would be reunited again.
After playing the regular season as singles players, the sophomore pairing joined forces again for the playoffs, and capped off a perfect postseason on Sunday at the Sound Shore Indoor Tennis facility by successfully defending their sectional title with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Clarkstown North’s surprising duo of Sydney Miller and Martina Czarnik.
“It feels amazing to come back stronger and better, especially to have Vanessa by my side,” Campos said. “Our games definitely compliment each other, and we have the great mindset and positive attitude on the court.”
Having won the title last year, and also having won their conference tournament this season, the Ursuline duo came into sectionals as a heavy favorite and as the top seed in the bracket.
It was a different feeling for the two compared to last year.
“We have a lot of pressure, but we try to forget about what we accomplished last year,” Ciano said. “We just took it one match at a time.”
Campos and Ciano’s opponent in the final was not one of the other seeded teams, but instead an unseeded duo that have only been playing together for a couple of weeks.
Miller, a freshman, and Czarnik, a senior, themselves have been surprised at the run that they have made.
“Our first goal was just to get into counties, and then sectionals,” Czarnik said. “We’re friends outside the court, so we definitely know how to communicate and time everything. (Sydney’s) amazing, she can hit baseline and volleys and she has a great spirit, so that definitely pumps me up.”
Miller and Czarnik, who upset two seeded opponents in Saturday’s quarterfinals and semifinals in Harrison’s Jess and Sydney Saviano as well as Rye Neck’s Clemence Balzano and Alana Proudian, were the lone team from Rockland county to qualify for the tournament.
“Not a lot of people from Rockland make it this far; I know so many people, it’s been their goal forever and they finish fourth,” said Miller. “Not a lot of people make it from North, and I’m happy to do it with (Martina).”
The Campos-Ciano and Miller-Czarnik tandems will both represent Section 1 at next week’s state tournament. They will be joined by Mamaroneck’s team of Juliette Nask and Katherine Orgielewicz.
Those two, who both played the regular season as singles players, defeated Rye Neck’s Balzano and Proudian in the third-place game ?-?, ?-?.
“It is such a relief; we were put in a bad spot to begin with being the fourth seed, so we had a tough draw,” said Orgielewicz, referencing her and Miller’s loss to Campos and Ciano in the semifinals. “We’ve never played together before, we had to communicate. She always picks me up when we’re down.”
Miller, an eighth-grader and the youngest player remaining at the tournament, will continue her strong rookie season, in which she was the Tigers’ number one singles player during the regular season.
“I just hopped right in, they put me through all the JV kids, I made it all through them. They tested me out against every varsity girl and I took first singles,” Miller said. “It feels nice to win because I’m the youngest here, but it also feels nice because I haven’t played with Katherine that much, and it’s great to be going to states with her.”
The three teams that will represent Section 1 at states will return to Port Chester on Saturday, when Sound Shore Indoor Tennis will host the opening round of the tournament.
Last year, Campos and Ciano nearly made it all the way, advancing all the way to the finals before losing their last match.
The goal this coming weekend is simple: get back there and win that game.
“We’re taking it one tournament at a time, one match at a time, one point at a time,” Campos said. “We just want to focus on the moment, not the outcome. We’re going to take advantage of what we can do.”