LIVINGSTON, NJ — When the Livingston girls tennis team defeated Ridgewood on Tuesday for the Section 1, Group 4 championship, it took a match that Emma Conforti called the most memorable of her career to clinch the title. She scored the deciding point in the match that Livingston won, 3-2, by Eunice Cha, 6-1, 6-4, at second singles.
Conforti is the subject of this week's Livingston Athletics Spotlight after raising her individual record this season to 16-5.
"Her varsity career singles record is 55-30," said Livingston head coach Elliot Lovi. "Emma has been chosen to the Super Essex All-Conference Tennis Team in the American Division in 2016, 2017 and 2018."
The 2019 team has not yet been chosen, but Conforti seems like a good bet to be named to the team for a fourth consecutive season. This year, she has made the transition from first singles, where she posted a 12-8 record as a junior, to second singles (most of the time) with the arrival of teammate Valencia Xu, who participated on the tournament circuit last year and did not play scholastic tennis.
"We haven't won the sectional final since 2012, and we hadn't beaten Ridgewood any of my previous seasons, so the looming emphasis on the importance of this match was definitely weighing on the team and me," Conforti said of Tuesday's victory. "As I was playing, I had been paying close attention to the other matches around me to see if they had been winning, and unfortunately, the score of our team match had been 2-2 with only my match remaining, making it the deciding match.
"Although I had won the first set, I was down a game in the second set. I also had to deal with the pressure-dense thought of 'If I lose, the team loses and this will be my last match ever playing for Livingston. However, as a result of the support and confidence from my teammates, coaches and spectators as well as the dream that my co-captain, Brielle Schwartz, and I have shared since freshman year of our team making it to Mercer County Park, I felt motivated enough to come back and fortunately, was victorious."
In her four years competing for Livingston's varsity team, Conforti has seen her game change quite significantly.
"Before playing in high school, I had only been playing tennis as an individual," said Conforti. "So, when I would have a bad day or get too in my head, it would only affect me and my results. However, after joining a team and having to play better in order to add to the successful team effort, I had to learn to improve my mental game, so as not to break down under pressure and lose a match which may have significant effect on the overall accomplishments of the team."
Conforti admits to benefiting from the counsel she's received from Lovi, a national coaching legend whose history with Livingston High School's tennis program dates back to the mid-1970s.
"The best advice I have ever received from a coach would have to be from coach Lovi," she said. "He emphasizes the importance of focusing solely on 'the next point' instead of worrying about what has previously gone wrong in the match thus far, the next game, etc. This has helped me maintain a stable mental state and not get overly concerned about the match as a whole."
An ardent student of history as a school subject, Conforti said she might like to pursue a career in law or in politics. Her favorite athlete is Naomi Osaka, winner of the 2018 U.S. Open.
As large a part as tennis has played in her life, however, Conforti said that she probably will not pursue continuing to play the sport when she enters college.
"After an extremely long time spent making a decision, I have come to the conclusion that I actually do not want to play tennis in college," said Conforti. "Tennis has been a significant part of my life for many years and has been one of the sole focuses of my everyday life. However, I'd like the chance for new experiences and test out some hobbies that I haven't had the chance to do yet.
"Also, it will feel nice and be a lot less pressure to finally not have tennis to worry about and have that weight off my shoulders in order to focus on academics and enjoy a fulfilled social and family life. But, as I love tennis and have for so long and it has been such a stress-reliever in my life, I will miss it dearly and am sure that I will end up playing club at the school I attend."
Conforti concluded that she hopes to "keep up with the sport after college" and to remain close with her coaches and teammates following her graduation.