You’ll never find the crowd at a Verona High School tennis match that you see at a football or baseball game: The seating for court spectators isn’t much bigger than a dugout. You’ll never get the roar that you get inside the gym. But in the quiet courtside, you’ll hear a loud statement on the strength of girls tennis at Verona High School.
Those who follow the sport know that the VHS girls won back-to-back sectionals titles in 2012 and 2013. But key elements of those teams aren’t on the court for the Hillbillies this fall. Briana Tedesco, half of the first doubles duo for three years, graduated VHS and is now at Penn State. Ciarra Davison, who played first singles last years, went to UCLA. Second singles player Jasmine Okafor headed to Johns Hopkins. It’s a different team on the courts this fall.
Just how different is apparent in the singles lineup. The first singles player is Dasha Yakhnis, an energetic freshman who has been playing tennis since age four. Junior Nell Karpinski, who also has a long presence on the court, has moved up from third singles to second. Rounding out the group is Caroline Chivily, who had spent her previous three years on the team as Tedesco’s first doubles partner.
“Caroline is an athlete and she is able to adjust,” says Coach Kelly Flynn. Chivily has a 10-2 record this year, the best of any player on the team, which is 8-4 on the season.
And while many members of the previous winning VHS teams have graduated the competition they face remains the same: VHS plays in both the American and Liberty leagues. “We’re playing some of the top teams in the state,” says Flynn. “It’s important for Verona to see what they can be.” And that’s doubly important for the girls who will stay on to be the 2014-2015 team; a total of 23 girls have come out for the varsity and JV teams this year.
If this year’s first doubles team was worried about the Nikes they had to fill, they’re not showing it. Gabby Brehne and Allie Vaccaro are 8-4, including victories over Montclair, West Essex and Mount Saint Dominic. They’ve done so well that they’ve secured a berth in the first round of the state tournament, as has Yahknis.
The freshman has a 8-4 record, and fought hard for some of those wins. In both of her last two outings, against Montclair and Livingston, she rallied after a first set loss to take her matches. With wins by both of her first singles teammates, Yahknis’ extra set was the key to a huge 3-2 Verona win over Livingston on Tuesday. “Dasha is a strong player who will get stronger as the season and the years go on,” says Coach Flynn. One key test of the strength of Yahknis and her teammates will come on October 17, when they face Newark Academy again. VHS lost five sets to none in the first contest on September 17.
“I’ve been very proud of what we’ve done,” Flynn says of her squad. “They are focused on their game and not on their past. If they play the rest of the season they way they’ve played, I will be even prouder.”