By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Many South Jersey high school sports fans would be surprised to learn that Egg Harbor Township junior tennis star Emily Manzo has only lost to three players during her prep career. Manzo is just one of those players who comes to work every day and just keeps winning, without a lot of fanfare. Taking a more in-depth look at her resume makes what she has already accomplished in her career that much more impressive.
If not for first-team all-state player — and New Jersey Player of the Year — Tess Fisher, of Vineland, Manzo likely would have two Cape-Atlantic League championships to her credit. She’s made it to the finals of the individual tournament the past two seasons before running into Fisher, a senior who finished her career with the state record for wins.
But, more importantly than her individual numbers, Manzo, the Glory Days Magazine girls tennis Player of the Year, has been a key leader for what has become one of the most dominant tennis programs in South Jersey.
Egg Harbor Township coach Alene Hartman said earlier this season that she knew from the start that Manzo was going to be an outstanding player, even when she was just a freshman.
“I wasn’t really surprised because during the regular season last year, the only matches she lost were to Tess Fisher. And the year before, she lost to Tess and split with Cassidy Calimer from Absegami, so having that good a season as a freshman, I knew she had a bright future,” Hartman said. “Emily is a smart tennis player. She knows she’s not going to win every match she plays, but she knows she can learn something from every match. Every time she plays Tess, she goes in with a game plan. She hasn’t been able to beat Tess, but she’s become a better tennis player through each match she plays against her. Tess is such a strong player and has such a versatile game. She has power and touch, and is a really tough player to beat.”
Even though Manzo never beat Fisher during her career, she said playing the state’s best player twice each year has made her a much better tennis player.
“This year was probably my best year. I had a lot of fun and the competition was really good. I was really proud of our team. We worked really well together and worked really hard, so it felt nice when we got all the accolades that we did,” Manzo said. “It stinks that Meena (Mandalapu, of Mainland) and Tess are graduating, because even though they are really tough to play, I enjoy playing them because they are such a challenge. I’ve lost to Tess about 11 times, but I try not to think of it in a negative way. Tess is such a great player and is one of a kind. I feel like she made me a better player. Even though I always lost, I felt like I got better and learned something every time I played her. I respect her a lot and I’m glad I got to play against her. She would never give me any points or take it easy on me. She took everything seriously, and I respected her for that. She always fought hard for every point, no matter who she was playing.”
Manzo got off to a 5-0 start during her freshman year in 2015, but then suffered back-to-back losses, to Absegami’s Cassidy Calimer and Cherry Hill East’s Stephanie Yanosov. It would be the last time Manzo ever lost two straight matches. She won six of her next eight matches, with the only losses coming to Fisher. She began her sophomore year with 12 straight wins, and her only losses that year were to Yanosov and Fisher. This year, as a junior, she went 15-3 in team matches, her only losses again coming to Fisher. She also helped lead Egg Harbor Township into the South Jersey Group 4 championship.
Manzo was selected as a team captain this season, and she helped lead the Eagles all the way to the South Jersey Group 4 championship match, where Fisher and Vineland edged EHT 3-2 with a victory at second doubles.
“I knew that because I got elected to be a team captain I would have a lot more responsibility, so I just tried hard to make everyone feel comfortable. I always tried to be upbeat and positive so we could do well. We always have each other’s backs, even outside of tennis, we study together and hang out,” Manzo said. “When we lost to Vineland it was devastating and the team took it pretty hard, but we tried not to view it negatively. We are using that to motivate us. In my senior year next year, I really want to win an individual CAL title, but I also want our team to continue to win together and hopefully make the South Jersey finals again. It won’t be easy, but I’m just going to keep working hard in the offseason.”
Coach Hartman says Manzo embodies what the EHT girls tennis program is all about — girls who are great students, outstanding teammates, and players who are willing to learn, and put in the work it will take to get better every day.
“These girls are a joy to coach, not just on the court, but off the court they are wonderful young women. They are a joy to be around and to have the pleasure of coaching,” Hartman said. “The only problems I have are the days when they might forget a piece of their uniform, or their shoes or something like that.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays