West Orange Girls Tennis Serves Up a Hot Season

Royson Folas, Managing Editor

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United. Relentless. Gritty. These are just a few words used to describe the West Orange Girls Tennis team.  As the season winds down to an end, Coach Jeffery “Maz” Mazurek gives his thoughts on how things have panned out this year and his hopes for the future.

Along with being a physical education teacher, Maz is also the coach of wrestling, and boys and girls tennis here at the high school. Not surprisingly, he is a big sports fan. His favorites include football, baseball, golf, wrestling, and of course tennis. His favorite team is the Oakland Raiders. He regards Mr. Speena, fellow wrestling coach, as his closest compatriot at WOHS. 

With the departure of two seniors from the varsity squad last season, the team was forced to shuffle the line up a bit this year. Nneka Arinzeh holds the coveted first singles position. Sophia Ruggiero and Madison Oliver hold second and third singles, respectively. Captain, Kaia Baker and Darlene Folas are at first doubles and lastly, Herva Kana and Funke Oshodi are at second doubles. Johanna Jaegger is the team’s 8th man. The team stands at a current 4-9 record. 

There have been a number of reasons that have plagued the girls’ record, one being mental mistakes. “A weakness of ours this year would be getting started quicker in the matches,” Maz believes. “We often get off to a slow start and put ourselves in a hole. In games we’ll be down two-nothing, three-nothing and we’ll have to try and get ourselves out of that,” 

In addition to this, the scheduling for the girls has not been very kind to them. The blend of facing ranked opponents in the state such as MKA, Millburn, and Livingston, and the lack of practices has negatively impacted the girls. “It’s tough [not practicing],” Maz claims, “I wish we had more time to practice. But we get a lot of our practice and ourselves ready for the season in August so we have a lot of time to do that where we just practice everyday. But once the season gets started its really tough to find those days. And when we do have them, we do as much as we possibly can. But it’s tough, it’s really tough.”

Despite making the mental mistake of starting games slow, the mentality and fighting spirit of the team was one of the biggest strengths according to Maz. “I think our biggest strength is our competitiveness and our will to keep fighting and battling in every match. Even when the girls are down or down big in a match they don’t stop playing and they stay positive and they still try to win it no matter what. We saw it in the counties. A couple girls were down, lost the 1st set and were down in the 2nd and fought back and played really well to almost win the match. It was really good to see that drive that they have to always play to win. It’s really special.”

Regardless of the record, there are plenty of positives to take away from this season. Maz thinks, the highlight of the season was their standout, 3-2 victory vs. Columbia. “This year so far our win against Columbia was a big win for us. This is my 5th year as coach and we haven’t beaten them. We always lost close matches to them and we finally beat them this year which was a good win for us.” 

As the season comes to a close, Maz looks to the near and the far future to set goals and become the most successful team they can be. One goal is to perform well in the state tournament. “When we go to the state tournament, I want to advance as far as we can. We’ve won our 1st round matches for the past three years and we’re looking to get over that hump and win our 2nd round match in which we’ve come so close. I look forward to see Nneka in the state singles tournament. And for the future, Kaia and Herva and Joanna and Darlene, they’re all graduating so we’re looking for girls to grab those spots. Whoever works the hardest over this season and the offseason those are the girls who are gonna take those spots.”

Every team needs a hardworking, encouraging, and motivating leader. This year Maz selected senior, Kaia Baker, who he believes exemplifies all these traits, both on and off the court. Kaia is an entrepreneur of her very own fashion line, Quintessential, the co-president of student council and the unity club, a mountaineer mentor, homecoming queen nominee, and a part of the math, science, english, history, and national honor societies at the high. This year is her fourth year on varsity in which she has played doubles every year.

Kaia has had a lot of success throughout her years as a player but she gives a lot of credit to Coach Maz to making her into the player she is. “I say this wholeheartedly. Maz is probably the best person to be a coach for a freshman. There’s nobody that will make you feel more comfortable than him. Playing varsity as a freshman is definitely a scary thing because you’re pretty much playing juniors and seniors and you don’t know anything about high school let alone the people on your team and it can be super intimidating. Thankfully, Maz made me feel confident in what I can do and made me realize that I could be a leader of the team and that’s what I’ve turned into the past few years.”

One word Kaia would use to describe the girls tennis team is quintessential, meaning being the best version of something. She says, “This team is comprised of so many different young women who all come from different backgrounds and I think when we all come together it really feels like a family. All 4 years from the girls who are still on the team to the girls who graduated, they’ve all helped me develop into the leader that I’ve always wanted to be and the leader that I aspire to be in the future. They’re helping me become my quintessential self,”

For the past three years, the clear stand out player for the girls has been Nneka Arinzeh. Nneka is a singer for the Jubilee choir, a violinist, a member of unity club, and a mountaineer mentor. Having claimed the first singles spot since freshman year, Nneka has an impressive 9-2 record that speaks for itself. But her road to excellence did not come easy, “My dad’s been coaching me since I was 4 and I had to practice 3-4 times every week. A lot of time if my friends want to hang out but I have a tournament that falls on a Friday or Saturday night I tell them I can’t. I have to sacrifice a lot of time that a lot of people don’t want to do but that’s really what it takes to be a great player. Tennis requires a lot of routine and practice.” 

Nneka is a firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason and her long journey of hard work certainly puts her on the right track to achieve her dream of playing division one tennis in college. With the help of Nneka and others, the tennis team is on the right track for a successful future. 

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