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Senior Cassidy Calimer sets standard of success at Absegami, both on and off the tennis court

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher It would be easy for other girls Cassidy Calimer’s age to be jealous of the Absegami High School senior tennis player. She’s the star of the team, making it to the Cape-Atlantic League singles championship last year as a junior. She’s tall and athletic. She carries a 3.5 grade-point average in school. She comes from a great family. She has a bright future ahead of her at whichever college she chooses to attend, and likely will play tennis collegiately. Yup, it should be easy for other girls her age to be jealous. And it would be, if she wasn’t so darn nice. If you want to find somebody who will say something negative about Cassidy Calimer, you better have some time on your hands and be willing to travel, because you would be hard-pressed to find anyone remotely near the Galloway Township area who would have a disparaging remark to utter. Calimer quietly has put together perhaps the best tennis career in Absegami history — quietly because she’s not one to boast about herself or her accomplishments, and doesn’t seem all that concerned with getting her name or photo in the local newspaper. She sees herself as just another member of the Braves’ girls tennis team. But if you look more closely, you’ll see a lot more than that. Hard work pays off Calimer has built an impressive resume during her time on the court for the Braves. She started out as a second doubles player as a freshman, then, as a sophomore, she and Kristen McCormick teamed up to win the CAL doubles championship. Then, last season, Calimer advanced to the first singles position and made it all the way to the league championship before being defeated by Vineland’s Tess Fisher — who finished as one of the state’s best players last year as a freshman. Fisher eventually advanced to the state semfinal, where she lost to eventual champion Kate Fahey, her only loss of the season. She went 40-1 and was named the Cape-Atlantic League Athlete of the Year by nj.com. The fact that Calimer was able to hang with Fisher, and even win three games from her in a 6-1, 6-2 loss in the CAL championship, is a credit to how hard Calimer has worked to improve her game. In less than eight years, Calimer has gone from a kid who didn’t even know that tennis was a sport to challenging for a league title and being on the verge of setting Absegami’s all-time mark for overall career wins. “The first time I stepped on a court I think I was on vacation with my dad and I don’t think I could even hit the ball with the racquet,” Calimer said. “And even when I did get it over the net, it was so bad. I didn’t really even know it was a sport back then.” Calimer recently set a school record for total wins. The previous record of 65 was held by Naeemah Brooks, who went 65-15 before graduating in 2009 and was first-team all-CAL four straight years. Calimer now has 70 combined wins between doubles and singles play. Senior first singles player Cassidy Calimer now has 70 career wins in both singles and doubles, a school record for total wins at Absegami. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Senior first singles player Cassidy Calimer now has 70 career wins in both singles and doubles, a school record for total wins at Absegami. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “Coming into freshman year (setting the wins record) wasn’t even a goal. My goal was just to be on the team for varsity. I was more of a doubles player, but then my coaches started saying I needed to play more singles,” Calimer said. “To go from doubles and winning the CAL to first singles was a big jump. And then going to the CAL (singles final) was really cool. The only person I lost to (in the regular season) was Tess Fisher of Vineland, so I knew how everybody played.” “She’s a great kid. She does all the things necessary, outside of the season, outside of practice, to prepare and that’s the difference between most players. It’s the work that her and her family put in, and that’s what it takes to be successful in individual sports,” Brown said. That family includes mom Shirley, dad Charles, older sister Amanda, older brother Charles, and younger brother Nick, who is a cross country runner in his junior year at Absegami. Cassidy said that once she started displaying some tennis talent her father began getting lessons for her, which helped her become the type of player she is today. Calimer said that despite all the lessons, her father is still trying to believe that his daughter is about to break the school record for wins. “(My family) is really impressed. My dad told me last year that he never thought I would come close to the school wins record, because my freshman year I was nowhere near where I am now,” Calimer said. Staying focused The hardest part about this season for Calimer will be anticipating the bigger tournaments toward the end of the season, in mid-to-late October. For the most part, her skill level is well beyond many of the first singles players from teams around the conference. She is a year-round player who goes the extra mile to improve her game through private lessons during the offseason, whereas some players are into other sports and only play tennis in the fall for the school team. Coach Brown said that he is reminding Calimer every day that bigger, more intense matches will be here soon and that she needs to try her best to stay as focused as possible during a match, even if she is winning rather easily. “One of the things we’ve had to talk about this year is maintaining her focus. What’s going on now is, she’s the big fish. She’s the hunted. And there are levels of girls in the conference and South Jersey. And it’s no knock on other girls, but with her experience, there are only a few kids in this conference that are at that level,” Brown said. “Her and I talk all the time about staying true to her game plan and just to be steady. That’s the difficult part for a high school athlete, when you pretty much know when you walk out on the court you are going to beat somebody in straight sets. “We talk about not taking shortcuts and playing each point one at a time. It’s not the same intensity she’s going to face when she plays a girl like Tess Fisher. And Fisher goes through the same thing. That’s what happens with the elite players. They fight to focus because there are just different levels.” Calimer and Fisher are the cream of the crop when it comes to Cape-Atlantic League tennis, and they are scheduled to face each other twice during the regular season before the league tournament begins, so those matches will be a barometer of how much Calimer has improved from last fall. “She’ll have several shots (at Fisher). They’ll play twice during the year and hopefully it works out that they face each other again in the CAL final. And she could see her in the state tournament,” Brown said. Calimer knows that Fisher is on even a higher level than she, but vows that if the two do end up facing each other again with the CAL title on the line, it won’t be easy for Fisher to retain her title. This is only Calimer’s second season as a singles player, and she admits it’s much different when you are out there all by yourself. “I’ve had to work on my serves a lot, my second serves particularly. In doubles, you just kind of get it over and if they hit it back, they hit it back. But in singles, it’s a lot more competitive,” Calimer said. “And the mental game, too. You don’t have a partner to pump you up, you’re just out there by yourself.” True role model No matter how the season finishes up, Brown said he will have a very difficult time replacing Calimer next season. The best leaders lead by example. They show up to practice every day, do what is asked of them without complaining, and have the ability to lift their teammates up to new levels of success. Brown said that, in a nut shell, encapsulates Calimer’s career at Absegami. “She runs drills for me. It’s like having another coach with the younger girls because they are so inexperienced, the majority of them. Very few of them have had a private lesson or been to a clinic. They come out and try to learn the sport, whereas Cass has been getting lessons since she’s been 10 years old. So from a technical standpoint, she’s as knowledgeable as any coach in the conference let alone any player because she’s been around it for most of her life,” Brown said. “She’s very positive and patient with the younger players. She doesn’t put herself above anybody, even though from a skill standpoint she is. She tries to help them, and the girls respond pretty well. Sometimes it’s tough with athletes when a peer is telling them what to do and how to do it. They don’t always respond, but she has a way of communicating with her teammates that it doesn’t come off as her being critical.” Calimer returns a shot during a September match against Oakcrest. She finished second to Vineland's Tess Fisher in the Cape-Atlantic League singles tournament last year as a junior. Calimer returns a shot during a September match against Oakcrest. She finished second to Vineland’s Tess Fisher in the Cape-Atlantic League singles tournament last year as a junior. Teammates agree that Calimer represents the standard they all aspire to reach someday. “She’s a great role model. Ever since my freshman year she’s been someone I can look up to. I’ve always wanted to be just like Cass,” said fellow senior and second singles player Emma Carrozza. “She definitely leads the team, whether we are doing stretches or drills. She gets everybody in the right frame of mind and sets us up to win. She’s really calm, but she always sets the tone for us. She’s always ready to win.” Brown said that Calimer’s ability to relate to her teammates makes what he is trying to teach easier to get across. “Naeemah Brooks was a solid player. And Cass is a special player, too, there’s no two ways around that. She’s put the work in and that is the key,” Brown said. “I’m sure the girls probably get tired of hearing it, but she’s our benchmark. I’m always saying, ‘girls, you don’t have to look any further than where Cass is at and what she does.’ I ask her all the things she does (to be successful) and she tells them, so they get to hear it from a peer instead some old guy saying, ‘OK, you need to do this, you need to do that.’ So when they hear it from Cass, it translates.” Having the ability to simply be another player on the team also helps keep Calimer grounded, she said. She has enjoyed all the new friendships she’s made as a member of the team, and like most high school athletes, she wants the team to be as successful as she is personally. “I like how it’s a mix, like you are on a team, but you’re also by yourself. You have that team feeling, but you also have to think about yourself and your record,” Calimer said. “I’ve made so many friends. Before tennis I wasn’t really friends with any of these girls (on the team). I knew them, but we weren’t really friends. So I’ve made a lot of friends through tennis and some of the girls who graduated last year I’m still close with.” Brown said that when it comes to having an ideal player on a high school tennis team, Calimer fits all the criteria. “She’s a model student, she’s a good kid. There’s never any back talk or dropping of the shoulders. And I’m sure there are times when I say things because the majority of the girls are young and inexperienced, that’s probably very Tennis 101 for her, but she doesn’t roll her eyes or anything. She’ll try to help and talk the girls through it. She’s a pleasure to be around. Her parents are here all the time supporting the girls,” Brown said. “There was one match earlier this season that went about three hours and her match was done in half an hour, so of those three hours, she spent two-and-a-half of them cheering on her teammates. As a coach, you can’t ask for a better kid to lead your team, to be an example for your team, to be a leader. She’s an ace.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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