One thing that makes a coach’s job easier, in any sport, is having the team’s best player be its hardest worker, and setting the example for the rest of their team.
That’s the case for the St. Anthony’s girls tennis team and its star player Nicolina Giannola. The junior is in her second year competing for St. Anthony’s and in the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA), but already making a profound impact.
“She is always pushing herself to be the best player she can be,” said St. Anthony’s head coach Curtis McCalla. “Nicolina isn’t one to just come in and say, ‘I’m the best player, so I am not going to work too hard’ .In all the times I have seen her train, she is a constant worker on the court, and an evenbetter teammate off of it.”
That hard work would pay off this past fall, as Giannola put together a dominant season that resulted in her winning the CHSAA singles title. Giannola defeated Abigail Eisenberg of St. Francis Prep in the title match.
“It was a good day for me,” she said looking back on the victory. “My favorite surface is outdoor clay, and the tournament was on outdoor clay, so I was able to use my drop shot and backhand slice a lot. I really incorporated those shots into my game, and with my being a windy day, used it to my advantage.”
Giannola came to St. Anthony’s last year, after initially beginning her high school tennis career at Port Jefferson High School, competing in Section XI. Her first year at St. Anthony’s was a bit of an adjustment period, and adding to that was the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in an abbreviated season.
But in that season, she was able to compete in some first singles matches, and that helped her get accustomed to playing in that position and scope out the type of competition she would have to face.
“I alternated first singles matches with another girl, and after she graduated last year, I took over the first singles spot,” said Giannola. “It really helped me get ready for this season, and I enjoyed playing against some fresh faces and new opponents.”
Her ability to scout opponents and make the right adjustments is one of the traits that makes her special, says McCalla.
“She really pays attention to the Xs and Os,” he said. “She is great at figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of her opponents, and then understands how to expose those weaknesses. That’s the kind of player she is.”
The daily routine for Giannola differs from most players her age. She lives in Port Jefferson, and each morning has to get up before dawn to take the train into Huntinigton to attend school at St. Anthony’s. Following school, she either attends practice for St. Anthony’s, or heads to Sportime Syosset or Kings Park for her private training. Those can make for long days, but Giannola has not allowed that business to affect either her tennis or her academics.
“One of the biggest things for me is time management,” she said. “I live an hour away from school now, so I have to be smart in terms of staying on top of my school assignments and everything else.”
Giannola now looks ahead to next year when she has an opportunity to defend her singles title, and will continue to put in the necessary work to constantly improve.
“The future is really bright for Nicolina,” said McCalla. “She is always paying attention to the players who are at that next level, and understanding what it takes to get there. She’s always willing to do what’s needed to add to her skill set and become the best version of herself.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.