Robby Ward knew he needed to raise his game in the finals of this year’s DIAA state tennis championships. And for good reason: the Tower Hill senior was playing in the Singles 1 match for the fifth time in his banner high school career, more than any other player in boys States history.*
So Ward had serious experience in the final, having played his first one as an eighth-grader, falling in a tough battle to Milford’s Colt Williamson, who he went on to defeat the following year.
Then as a sophomore, Ward led the Hillers to an unprecedented five-court sweep in the state finals, as he downed Rishi Gundakaram of Caesar Rodney in two sets.
Ward goes on the offensive to defeat CR’s Gundakaram
But last year Gundakaram came well prepared for Ward, and the two juniors’ battle left the CR Raider with the state title. Yesterday at St. Andrew’s the seniors faced off for a third time – also an unprecedented occurrence – and Ward got the better of his friend and longtime rival — employing powerful forehands, pounding backhands, and a faster serve – leading the Hillers to another team state championship at St. Andrews School.
This year, Ward used the net more as he went on the offensive. “It helped me this year to be a lot more aggressive and move into the court a lot more, come into net as much as possible and put as much pressure on him as possible.”
Ward says his third championship match-up against a player he considers to be a friend was on his mind all season.
“This year I really worked for it. All year I was healthy – I didn’t miss any matches. And I wasn’t recovering from any injuries. But if anything, losing to him last year really helps. People always say you can learn more from losing a match than winning a match. It’s just definitely inspired me more to work harder and come out full tilt this year,” said Ward.
The victory caps an extraordinary scholastic and junior career for the Wilmingtonian, highlighted by a flawless regular season record of 58-0.
That goes with being a five-time finalist, three-time individual champion, two-time team champion, a consistent USTA Boys ranking in the top 100 nationally, and being a “4 Star” recruit to Middlebury College in Vermont – a team that has dominated Division 3 tennis, most recently winning the 2018 national title.
Ward, who has played 12 – 15 regional and national tournaments every year since he was 12, says he enjoys individual competition but prefers being part of a team. “Playing on a team for your school and with all my teammates is just more fun than traveling individually.”
Now Ward is looking forward to a career in the competitive NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) league, where he’ll partner with and face many of his rivals from the junior circuit. He’ll also be in the same conference as his sister Julia, a standout squash player who stars for Williams College.
Ward’s victory yesterday helped put the Hillers over the top again for the second time in three seasons.
Tower Hill boys tennis team wins 2nd championship in three years
The team dominated play, carrying four of five championship matches played, including Charlie Sternberg on third singles, Alex Racape and Aidan Donoho on first doubles and Guarav Rastogi and Andrew Allen on second doubles.
The victory was the second state title for Racape and Donoho, who won at second doubles in the Hillers victorious 2017 campaign, when Tower Hill won championships on all five courts.
In what is also likely another first, all four of the 8th graders in the State tournament – Aubrey Nisbet, Charlie Sternberg, Andrew Allen, and Ava Steinberger – won a state championship.
In girls play, Wilmington Friends eighth-grader Aubrey Nisbet, a top 10 national player (featured here on TSD), defeated Dover sophomore Erika Synoski 6-1, 6-4. Nisbet conceded she had to make adjustments in the second set to maintain her momentum. “I don’t think I played as well in the second set. But I was glad I was able to ultimately refocus, work on my footwork, and pull out a win,” she said.
State Champions – Boys
First singles – Robby Ward, Tower Hill, def. Rishi Gundakaram, Caesar Rodney, 6-2, 6-3
Second singles – Seth Friedlander, Tatnall, def. Darin Jawahar, Caesar Rodney, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5
Third singles – Charlie Sternberg, Tower Hill, def. Garrett Wrede, Caesar Rodney, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1
First doubles – Alex Racape-Aidan Donoho, Tower Hill, def. Jhayden Pappas-Francis Tamesis, Caesar Rodney, 6-2, 6-4
Second doubles – Gaurav Rastogi-Andrew Allen, Tower Hill, def. Dylan Yin-Samuel Ashley, Charter of Wilmington, 6-4, 7-5
State Champions – Girls
First singles – Aubrey Nisbet, Wilmington Friends, def. Erika Synoski, Dover, 6-1, 6-4
Second singles – Victoria Anyanwu, Dover, def. Katherine Tamesis, Caesar Rodney, 6-4, 6-2
Third singles – Olivia Anyanwu, Dover, def. Mimi Wilmerding, St. Andrew’s, 6-2, 6-4
First doubles – Ella Shepherd-Ava Steinberger, Tower Hill, def. Erin Biddle-Jing Lin, Dover, 6-1, 6-1
Second doubles – Anya Dhawan-Macklin Fishman, St. Andrew’s, def. Saloni Rastogi-Heidi Chu, Tower Hill, 6-4, 6-1