Boys Tennis: East Ridge says goodbye to five key seniors
After the 2017 East Ridge boys tennis season, coach Suzie Heideman knew the following year was going to be different.
Whether it was a positive or negative change, it was up to the new patch of seniors coming in for the 2018 season to make that decision.
Heideman knew she had Elias Ramirez and Subbarao Garlapati already on the varsity team from the previous season to help with senior leadership, but she also knew she wanted more.
Therefore, she went to her junior varsity team and brought up two seniors with Filip Belik and Eric Deliere. She thought that was going to be all the seniors until she received a surprise player in Filippo Ugolotti, an exchange student from Italy.
Even though these five seniors came from different backgrounds and circumstances, Heideman has been proud of the way they have kept the tradition of fun and success at East Ridge.
"It's been a fun year seeing all of these seniors and this entire team come together and grow," Heideman said. "This growth comes from the leadership of our seniors and the example they set each and every day at practice and in matches."
Usually when a tennis team graduates six players one season, they don't expect to see another five seniors graduating the next season. Even though that's the case, Heideman thinks this season was different compared to the 2017 season of seniors.
The 2017 seniors had been in the same position for a number of years before their senior year. Those six seniors came into the 2017 season knowing they'd play on varsity and their position on varsity wouldn't be changed much.
The 2018 seniors didn't have that mindset because two of them were in junior varsity to start the season and one was in Italy during the 2017 season.
"We all have a different journey getting to this point," Ramirez said. "That's what makes this senior class a strong class for this tennis team."
Ramirez is the captain and the No. 1 singles player for East Ridge, but this is his first season being at the No. 1 singles spot. He's been in the Raptors program since his freshman year, but has worked his way through junior varsity and a number of singles positions.
His favorite experience for him was last season when he was behind No. 1 East Ridge singles player Ben van der Sman, who was also the top singles player in the state during the 2017 season.
Ramirez said he was able to learn so much from just watching van der Sman play and he was able to incorporate some of that into his game.
"Being able to watch the top singles player in the state at practices and matches was definitely a benefit," Ramirez said. "I think it helped me into becoming a well-rounded player this season."
This might be the end of his high school tennis career, but it's not the end of tennis for him. He plans to attend Hamline University and will be playing on their Division III tennis team.
He's excited to continue the sport into college, but understands it won't be an easy transition from high school to college tennis. While at Hamline, Ramirez said he will probably be studying business.
He can't believe that four years have flown by, but he also remembers each season distinctively. Each season had a particular meaning to him and this season was very special to him as well as senior Garlapati.
"At the beginning of this season, I had to do a double take on many of the faces of this team," Garlapati said. "There were a lot of new faces on the team, but being able to see all these new faces come together and complete a season like this is incredible."
Garlapati was the other East Ridge player that was on the varsity team last season and came back this season with experience and determination to play a great spring of tennis to end his senior year on a high note.
He might not be one of the singles players, but Heideman said he's a key component in the doubles squad as part of the No. 2 doubles pairing for East Ridge. His road to varsity has been a roller coaster of a career, but an unforgettable one in his eyes.
Garlapati started his Raptor tennis career in junior varsity after breaking his hand his freshman year. He continued to progress with each season resulting in this year being not only a doubles player, but also a leader on this East Ridge team.
"It's been a long road, but the great part about each season is seeing the growth not only in yourself, but in your teammates as well," Garlapati said. "This is not the end of my tennis career."
Garlapati looks forward to next year as he's heading down to Georgia Tech to study either biomedical or computer science engineering. As for tennis, he plans to try and join the club team, but whether he makes the team or not he will always keep tennis a part of his life.
Tennis in college seems to be a common theme between all five of these seniors, including Belik and Deliere. The two of them have followed a similar path in their pursuit to being on the varsity team.
Deliere joined East Ridge tennis his freshman year, while Belik became a part of the program his sophomore year. They both played on the junior varsity team until the end of their junior years.
Once the 2018 season began and their senior years coming upon them, Deliere and Belik made the move to the varsity team.
It was a great moment for the two seniors, but they also knew they needed to prove their worth on the varsity team throughout the season. That proof resulted in a 16-4 regular season and a No. 1 seed in the 3AA sectionals for the postseason.
"We didn't want people to think that we made the varsity team because we were seniors," Deliere said. "We wanted to put our mark on this program and contribute to hopefully another run to the state tournament."
The two were able to put that mark on the program together as they were paired up for No. 3 doubles halfway through the season.
Belik said the two of them had different styles of play that worked well together and it's shown throughout the second half of the season.
As for college, Deliere is heading to North Dakota State and studying to be a comprehensive science teacher. Belik will be attending Gustavus Apholus and studying math and physics. The two of them will be trying to play on their club tennis teams, while Belik hopes to make Gustavus' Division III team.
"Tennis has been a big part of my life," Belik said. "I don't ever want to lose it."
Finally, the last senior on the team comes from a country across the Atlantic Ocean. Ugolotti is from Italy and came to the United States last September as an exchange student.
For Ugolotti, he noticed a large difference between tennis in America and tennis in Italy. The high schools in Italy don't have sports, instead students join club teams outside of their schools. Ugolotti chose tennis and practices the sport every week two or three times a week.
He wasn't used to the having practices and matches every day of the week for only the spring and had to adjust to the change quickly. Heideman said he's made the transition really well and was happy to have him on the team this season.
"The players joke around that he's another coach because he looks older," Heideman said jokingly. "In all seriousness, he's been a great player and person to have on the team."
Ugolotti will return to Italy during the summer and will continue to play tennis with his club team in his home country. He still has one more year of high school next year, so he doesn't have to make a decision on college quite yet.
"I'm not sure whether I want to go to school in Italy or the United States, but luckily I have some time," Ugolotti said. "It's been a great season and I'm so glad I decided to come out for the team."
All five of these seniors have learned an important teaching from Heideman throughout not only this season, but every season they've played at East Ridge.
"You take each point at a time, and each match at a time," Deliere said. "If you have fun with the game of tennis, the results will come with it."
Those two aspects were key to each of the five seniors' success as a Raptor and they can't wait to return back next season or future seasons to see that success continue to roll on with each senior class.
"It's crazy how time flies so quickly," Ramirez said. "Even though it'll be sad to leave, I think we're all excited for a new chapter of our lives."