Whitemarsh – West Chester Henderson entered Tuesday’s PIAA District One Class AAA girls’ tennis team championship final at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School looking for its third consecutive district title, while Harriton was looking to spoil the party and claim its first title since moving up to Class AAA in 2012.
With the match deadlocked at 2-2, all the attention was focused on Henderson senior Emma Clark, who clinched a spot in the upcoming PIAA Class AAA individual state singles tournament and Harriton sophomore Sophia Sassoli, who will be participating in the upcoming PIAA District One Class AAA doubles tournament.
With Sassoli holding a one set advantage, Clark did not stop attacking the younger player, using a combination of power and finesse to take a 3-1 advantage in the second set. With the crowd cheering every point and both players feeling the support from teammates and family, Sassoli fought back and eventually broke Clark to take a 5-4 lead with a chance to serve for the match.
Thanks to some timely big serves and key shot placement, Sassoli held serve to win the second set and the match, 6-4, thus breaking the Warriors’ stranglehold at the top of District One and giving Harriton its first district title at the Class AAA level.
“I knew the match was tight and I knew the pressure was on but I tried not to think about because if I started thinking about it I knew the match wouldn’t end well,” said Sassoli. “I just kept telling myself ‘Legs and Swing’ and to keep it simple. It was an amazing feeling when I won the match. It was a great sense of relief to win.”
Harriton coach David Broida said, “Sophia Sassoli didn’t disappoint when the pressure was on and the team needed her to win the final match and break a 2-2 tie. After winning the first set 6-2, and down 3-4 in the second, Sophia fought back to win the last three games, finishing off her opponent on her second match point. Sophia showed determination, perseverance, and raw physical strength in powering each hit back to her opponent until the ball was not returned.”
“I was very proud of Emma [Clark] and her performance against Sophia today,” said Henderson coach Peter Sok. “Sophia is a good player, a national caliber player, and for Emma to compete like she did was great. As a coach I could not be any prouder of her.”
Following the match, both players were greeted by well-deserved applause before Harriton stormed the court to congratulate their teammate while Henderson let Clark know about her tremendous effort.
“It was an amazing feeling when I saw the players storm the court,” said Sassoli. “It was great for the team and for the school.”
Broida added, “Winning the PIAA District One Team Championship is a victory that will be celebrated by the team, their parents, and the entire Harriton High School community. Before the match, the girls had talked about getting this win on the banner that decorates the tennis courts at their school.”
Playing a three-singles, two-doubles format, it appeared as though the Warriors would one again rise past its opponent, taking an early 2-0 lead, thanks to a 6-2, 6-0 win by seniors Elaina Rochford and Mary Soria at first doubles over Lauren Binnion and Roshni Parkh (who filled in for Sofia Kandoussi), followed by a 6-0, 6-1 win at second doubles by senior Iswarya Vel and sophomore Jessica Liu over Sonia Groeneveld and Shaina Ginsberg.
Harriton tied the match a short time later as Nina Hoog defeated Hannah Baxter 6-3, 6-1 at third singles before Connie Richards defeated Amanda Baxter 6-4, 6-0 to even the match and set up the dramatic conclusion.
Both teams will advance to the state tournament starting Oct. 25, with Harriton playing the third place finisher from District Three while Henderson will open up play against the District 12 champion.
“It’s always a pleasure to make the state tournament and it’s not easy to qualify for the state tournament out of District One,” Sok said. “To have this opportunity is a credit to their hard work and effort as a team and as their coach I could not be any prouder.”