COATESVILLE >> Anthony DeCecco Jr. coaches the girls tennis team at Downingtown East. But he feels right at home on Court 1 at Coatesville Area High School.
On Wednesday afternoon, DeCecco brought the Cougars back to where it all started for him, watching team captain Maddie Minio play on the same court where he once played as a high schooler, as she led the Cougars to a 7-0 win over Coatesville and another step in an undefeated season.
It’s been a year to remember for East, with a Ches-Mont League National title, a step away from an undefeated season, and a chance to go far in states. It may finally be East’s year.
“It feels great being undefeated,” said Minio, who beat Sarah Kargbo, 6-1, 6-1, Wednesday at No. 1 singles. “Especially because I’m a senior and it’s my last year on the team. Our girls came out during the summer and practiced really hard so that we could come into the season and play really well. All the girls are really dedicated, so we just came out swinging.”
No pun intended.
“We went into the season knowing that we had a pretty strong team,” DeCecco said. “We knew Henderson probably was not quite as good and as strong as they’ve been in the past, so, we knew this was the chance for us.
“Pete has done a great job with Henderson and they’ve won for so many years in a row. It’s nice that he let someone else win this year,” DeCecco continued. “What happened was that we finally had our team in place and we added three tournament players to our varsity and only lost three seniors. … Unionville, still had a strong team, but what happens a lot in these matches is we’ll have a loss to Henderson and Unionville and go 13-2. We would make it to districts, but we never win the league.”
Great Valley, Unionville, Henderson and West Chester East have always been tough competition for the Cougars. However, after starting the season by beating Great Valley 6-1, the Cougars knew they had a chance. Downingtown East would follow that up by beating Unionville, 5-2, and learning a lot about where they were as a team. Unionville had beaten Henderson already, so when the Henderson match finally arrived for East, the Cougars were ready, and won, 6-1.
With West Chester East still on the schedule, the Cougars still had to prove themselves capable. With a win over West Chester East, the Cougars could clinch the National title for the first time in DeCecco’s eight-year tenure.
“It was so exciting,” said Minio. “It was a really tough match. We had three of our girls go into the third set for the tiebreakers. It was hot and it was tough, but all of the girls pulled through and kept fighting. It was good to win, but it was even better to win 7-0.”
“It feels really good, like finally,” said Isabel DeCecco. “We had a lot of good freshmen come in and some of the good teams lost their good players, like Henderson. Last year, was kind of rough because we didn’t do like any of the self-coaching we kind of winged it. But, this year we were determined and we knew we had a good chance to win.”
“I have the team that doesn’t quit,” said coach DeCecco. “The interesting thing [about clinching the national title] is that last year we had a glitch. I was suspended as coach for about a month because there was some things that were said about me in an anonymous letter that I wasn’t happy about. I didn’t know how it was going to work out. Maybe 50 percent of people would stand by me and the other 50 percent would go against me, but it didn’t happen like that. One hundred percent of the people stood by me. The players went to the school board meeting and the parents went and it turned out to be false allegations and they reinstated me. I missed a month of the season last year and my attorney suggested not to come back, but I decided to come back and to win Ches-Mont and go undefeated, it couldn’t be any sweeter.”
The Cougars still have another match against Octorara, as well as Ches-Mont singles and double to prepare for. But after already clinching the team league title, the focus is turning toward the postseason.
“We came into the season saying that we were going to go undefeated and we did just that,” said Minio. It just worked for us. Each year we go to districts and we lose in the round that could get us to states, but I think this year we have so much momentum and good feelings about the season that this could push us to go to states.”
“Well as we go on, we have short term and long-term goals.” said coach DeCecco. “We made it to districts eight years in a row, but what happens is we’re usually seeded between five and eight, which means you get one home match and then you go on the road and play a team that’s better. We usually lose in the second round, 3-2, because they only take the top five. Three singles and two doubles. Our team being so deep sometimes works against us sometimes works against us because seven overall we can beat anybody, but with five it gets a little dicey. By doing what we did this year it gets us a top four seed in districts, which gets us two home matches against teams that are seeded below us. If everything goes according to plan we’ll get to states and that will be a big milestone.”