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TENNIS: Worth The Wait Friends' Central School Wins League Title

By Angela DelVecchio / FCS Athletics Contributor, 11/07/22, 2:30PM EST


Friends' Central School 2022 Tennis League Champions

(Pictured from L-R) Asst. coach Wes Spahr, Margot Groundwater, Savina Copas , Allie Whellan, Lauren Coss, Lindsay McCammon,  Maddy Jackson, Grace Schlegel and head coach Tony Patarino. (photo/Lennie Malmgren for PSD)

By: Angela DelVecchio

(Photos/Video Lennie Malmgren)

WYNNEWOOD, PA--For Friends’ Central School’s head tennis coach Tony Patarino, it was a season of, gratitude, perseverance and shear love of the game that culminated his team’s quest for the Friends School League Championship title.

A quest six years in the making.

How they got there… Friends’ Central had an incredible season going into the league semifinals undefeated and easily taking care of business winning a seat for the Championship match defeating Germantown Friends School 3-2 on October 27th.

With a quick turnaround the next day, the Phoenix (10-0 league) were poised to face a tough George School team (9-1 league) for the championship. Their only league loss was to the Phoenix dropping that match 4-1 earlier in the season.

Patarino has been at the helm of both Friends’ Central’s varsity girls’ and boys’ tennis teams since 2019. His love of the game started when he was just two years old and having coached teams at the collegiate and private levels for the past 12 years, he knows first-hand the physical and mental pressures that occur on the court.

“The theme of this year, what I tried to drive home all season, is mental toughness. How to handle finishing close matches, how to find the strength to come back from behind. What mental strategies to implement to keep yourself grounded and center while the pressure is on. And this team did that better than any team I have ever coached before,” said Patarino.

Patarino knew that the George School would give them a tough fight for the title, but he also knew his team was up for the challenge.

Trailing 2-0 following victories by George School in No. 1 singles and No. 2 singles, the Phoenix began chipping away, with No. 3 singles player senior Allie Whellan 'notching a straight-set win to slice the deficit to 2-1, the No. 2 doubles team of seniors Lauren Coss and Lindsay McCammon registered a straight-set win of their own to level the match setting up the dramatic finish.

“During the match everyone’s hearts were pounding. The whole season and title were on the line. But their ability to adapt and make strategic and mental changes on the fly is how Maddy and Grace overcame the pressure,” said Patarino.

FCS Varsity Tennis Team pictured from L-R top Maddy Jackson, Savina Copas, Grace Schlegel, Margot Groundwater, (bottom L-R) Lauren Coss, Allie Whellan, Lindsay McCammon

Friends' Central Head Coach Tony Patarino. PSD photo by Lennie Malmgren

That dramatic finished came with the No. 1 doubles team of junior Grace Schlegel and freshman Maddy Jackson.  Dropping the first set, the pressure really started to build. The duo rallied back and dug deep winning the second set to even the match at 1 set all, which initiated a third thrilling set that would decide the league title.

With dusk quickly approaching Schlegel and Jackson raced out to a 4-1 lead only to see the George School’s No. 1 doubles team of Fressa Ni and Noori Nagra win back-to-back games to trim the lead to 4-3.  Schlegel and Jackson fought right back, pushing the lead to 5-3.

With a serve from Jackson, the pair came up with timely volleys to win the game and earn a 6-3 win in the third set, giving the hosts a come-from-behind championship victory and first league title ending a six-year drought.  

“This doubles team was equipped with a lot of tools in their tool belt.  They were able to perform under a high-pressure situation in front of a large crowd with the title on the line by being able to control their emotions and use it as fuel to do what needed to be done.  You could feel how much this meant to everyone. No one in the crowd was talking. They were hyper focused on every moment of the match. You could feel the tension in the air. And when the girls won that final point and you heard all of the cheers, you could feel all of that tension release and turn to extreme happiness and pride,” said Patarino.

Patarino lauded his entire team for their dedication and perseverance.

“I can’t stop thinking about the season. How much they had to overcome. All of the time, energy, and sacrifices that went in to completing a perfect season.  I can feel how much this team loves tennis, and how much they wanted to win. Seeing the smiles on their faces when we had won the title gave me a deeper level of pride than I could possibly describe as best as I’d like. It was euphoric,” said Patarino.

Final Doubles Match In FSL Championship Friends' Central vs. George School. Video by Lennie Malmgren for PSD

The No. 3 singles standout Whellan led her team by example and determination with an unblemished record.

“She was a crucial part of our success because she went undefeated the entire season, including the playoffs! She really took it to heart when I told the team if you don’t miss you can’t lose! And she almost never missed. No matter how tough her opponents were, they couldn’t mentally keep up with Allie, because they knew how much it took just to win one point, let alone a whole match,” said Patarino.

According to Patarino, his team, which finished with an overall 12-0 record, would not have gotten where they are today if not for the constant support and encouragement, they received all season long and for that he is extremely grateful.

“I want to thank everyone who made this season possible. The girls who put in all of the hard work. The parents who came out for every match to support.  Associate director of athletics, Phil Annas, who always helped schedule matches and do a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Sports counselor, Brett Blackiston, who helped talk to the girls and help them manage their emotions. And finally, a very special thank you to our Director of Athletics, Michelle Crowley, who works endless hours for not just our team, but every team throughout each season. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be the coach. It is a great honor to be a part of such an amazing school,” said Patarino.