By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Tess Fisher has been a tennis prodigy for most of her life. She is the type of talent that graces the South Jersey tennis scene maybe once in a generation. Supremely confident, Fisher has the type of power on her forehand and serve that most high school tennis players simply can’t handle. She rarely even goes three sets in any of her matches.
With such talent, why didn’t Fisher attend a private tennis academy, such as IMG in Florida, or the Weil or Advantage tennis academies in California? She certainly has the talent. Coming into this season, Fisher was ranked No. 8 in New Jersey and No. 21 in the region by Tennis Recruiting Network, and had played in the state singles semifinal or final for three consecutive years. Recently, she captured her first overall singles state title by taking down Ashley Hess of Holy Angels, 6-4, 6-1, at Mercer County Park.
So, why did she stay home and attend Vineland High School?
The thing about Fisher is, she knows she’s good enough to be at an academy, but she simply wanted to spend her high school years in her hometown, with the friends she grew up with. She also wanted to represent her school, and possibly lift the girls tennis program up to the point where it could compete for a South Jersey title.
She did just that, as on Oct. 17 the Fighting Clan — a No. 6 seed in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament — upset top-seeded and previously undefeated Egg Harbor Township, 3-2, to win a sectional title. Even in this type of victory, Fisher deflected attention away from herself, allowing her teammates to shine and be front and center during post-match photos. She let her teammates hold the trophy high so that they could experience the joy of winning. She had experienced plenty of winning during her high school career, going undefeated throughout her high school career in team matches.
A funny thing happened, though, on the way to a sectional championship. Fisher thought she was fighting so hard to beat the Eagles for her teammates. Meanwhile, the one thing on the mind of the second doubles team of Kara Kuchinski and Sakshi Thakkar was, “we need to win this for Tess.” The pair of juniors — and Kuchinski was in her first year of playing tennis — understood what Fisher had sacrificed by staying home and attending Vineland. The match came down to them against EHT’s Christine Vu and Asia Lackland, and it went into a third set after Vu and Lackland rallied to win a second-set tiebreaker. Kuchinski and Thakkar wanted to win so badly to repay Fisher for being the leader and captain she has been for four years. They knew that every match the team needed to win just two points, because Fisher was going to provide a victory at first singles. They felt compelled to return the favor, and did, winning that final set to clinch the 3-2 win over the Eagles.
“Tess really deserves this, so I’m so happy we could give her this win. To her, and all the other seniors. We made history. This is VHS history for girls tennis,” Kuchinski said after the match.
“These are the reasons why I don’t choose to do that,” Fisher said about not attending a prestigious tennis academy. “I’d rather be part of a team and experience things like this happening. It feels awesome.”
“There had to be an omen with this. Tess wouldn’t leave. She would never leave a practice, she never skipped a match. And these girls played for her. That was part of our thing, Tess was giving us a point every match. She led this team. She led through example by the person she is, and it reflected on their play,” said Vineland coach Dom Massaro. “She stayed, and they returned the favor. They did it for her, no question. The fact that she stayed speaks volumes about her. When we talk about Tess Fisher, we talk about the type of person she is. She’s an outstanding captain. We all know of her ability on the tennis court, but what she does off the court and at practice, it’s a positive impact on everyone around her — adults included.”
Just having a player such as Fisher allowed Vineland to become a viable contender for a South Jersey title, even if the rest of the girls didn’t realize it. Because of her talent, Massaro and assistant coach Vince Luciano beefed up the schedule, so that Fisher could play tough matches to get her prepared for the state singles tournament. By doing so, the rest of the team was forced to play tougher competition, so they weren’t awed by the stage of the sectional final and playing a team as good as EHT.
“Vince and I, we are away at tournaments every weekend with Tess. We’re in tournaments like the Moorestown Classic, and we play tough schools and it helps these girls. We play Moorestown, West Windsor-Plainsboro, Haddonfield — those are the teams that really paid off,” Massaro said. “We play those matches for Tess and we tell the girls that they may get beat up a little bit. But they gain confidence. This didn’t shock them because they’ve seen some of the toughest tennis players in South Jersey.”
Fisher winning a long-sought-after state singles title is one of the feel-good stories of the fall because for four years she did everything for the team, then finally had a chance to bask in the glow of victory all on her own. But, of all the accomplishments Fisher has had in perhaps the best tennis career in South Jersey history, getting to hoist a South Jersey team title trophy high above her head and taking pictures with her teammates is right there at the top of the list.
“I would rank this No. 1, definitely,” Fisher said after the win over EHT. “This is huge.”
And that’s all you need to know about Tess Fisher and the kind of young woman she is.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays