Dover girls out from CR’s shadow

Dover’s girls’ tennis team poses for a photo after winning its first Henlopen Conference Tournament team title since 2006 last weekend. The members of the team are, left to right: Kevin Papen, Erika Synoski, Erin Biddle, Jing Rue Lin, Sophie Malenfant, Adriana Kwok, Victoria Anyanwu, Megan Chen and Aspen Ozer. Submitted photos

DOVER — By the end, everybody was watching this one doubles match.

Dover High’s team of Jing Rue Lin and Erin Biddle had already won five straight games to win the second set, 6-4.

So now the third set was a winner-take-all showdown.

Kevin Papen

It would not only decide the second-doubles conference title but it would also determine the Henlopen Conference Tournament crown in girls’ tennis.

The fact that Rhue Lin and Biddle beat Caesar Rodney’s Selma Cemerlic and Hannah Jeffrey, 6-0, to give Dover the crown doesn’t mean it wasn’t tense.

“You could kind of tell at the end that they were really feeling it,” said Senators’ coach Kevin Papen. “But I was nervous the whole time. I’m thinking at 5-0, 30-love, ‘we could still do this’ because you never know.”

Dover singles players Erika Synoski and Victoria Anyanwu.

For a Dover girls’ program that has played in the Riders’ shadow for the past decade, this was a breakout moment.

Yes, the Senators beat CR, 3-2, in the season’s opening match to snap the Riders’ 117-match winning streak. But CR came back to down Dover, 4-1, on April 30 to capture the Henlopen regular-season title.

But by winning three out of five matches with the Riders in the conference tourney finals last Saturday, the Senators ended CR’s 11-year run of Henlopen Tournament team championships.

And now the really interesting thing is that the Dover and CR could end up dueling for the state title as well.

The rain-delayed DIAA state tournament is slated to start today at various courts. The first round is set for 1 p.m. with the second round to follow.

The Senators and Riders are seeded in the top three spots on all five courts.

Even though Dover has already had the program’s most successful season since 2006, Papen admits he doesn’t want the Senators to stop now.

“My problem is I really hate losing,” said Papen, the former CR boys’ singles state champion. “So I don’t think anyone wants to stop at winning conferences. If nothing else happens, we’ve had a great year.”

Dover’s players felt like they had something to prove in the Henlopen tourney.

“We just wanted to come in and show, not only CR, but everyone else that Dover can actually win,” said sophomore Victoria Anyanwu, the first-single conference champion. “It was nice when second doubles came back.

“We all really want to go for states this year. But we know we have to take it one match at a time. We’re confident but we still want to stay focused and keep working on it.”

“It was exciting,” said freshman Erika Snyoski, who won the second-singles crown. “It was a good feeling. We beat them (the Riders) once already, so we knew we could beat them. I think we’re going to do really well (in the state tourney).”

In the local tennis community, Dover’s emergence this season didn’t come as a surprise. People knew the Senators had some good young players coming in.

CR coach Zach Taylor said it’s a good thing for Kent County tennis to have both the Riders and Dover be among the better programs in the state.

“I like it,” said Taylor. “We knew that Dover was going to be good this year. We’ve been preparing for it all off-season. It’s nice to have somebody that pushes you to get better.

“It’s been interesting to see how people have responded to that. … I think, as a team, it’s been good for us to know that there’s a team right down the road that’s just as good as we are.”

The Riders have won the last two girls’ team state crowns and finished first or second in the state six times in the last seven seasons.

With a less-restrictive conference schedule this season, CR was able to face some upstate programs in dual matches. The Riders have already beaten Tower Hill, Archmere and Wilmington Charter head-to-head.

“That’s been nice,” said Taylor. “I think it’s given the girls a lot of confidence going into states.”

The Senators have a pretty young team, with only three seniors among their top seven players right now. They’re hoping that this season can be the start of something good for the program.

“Next year we’re going to have a couple new players that are going to be really good so hopefully we can have a good team for a while,” said Synoski. “It’s going to be cool.”

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