VERONA, NJ - Defeating Bloomfield 4-1 on Tuesday, the Verona girls tennis team moved to 14-6 for the season and became the 2019 SEC Colonial Division Champions.  Head Coach Jonathan Thai credits Ashley Baumgard with being a key part of that conference title. Baumgard is the TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove Hillbilly Athlete of the Week.

“Ashley has been instrumental to our team's success this year. She has been a pivotal point in several matches, including clinching our team matches against West Orange (twice) and Columbia. She also beat Millburn's 3rd singles player in the Essex County Tournament to earn our first team point against them in over 10 years,” Thai said.  “Ashley has had an outstanding season for us going 15-3 overall while playing at both 2nd singles and 3rd singles. Her positive attitude and even-keeled approach are traits that other girls on our team have emulated.”

Baumgard has been playing tennis most of her life, taking tennis lessons in the summer since the first grade, but she said she stepped it up when she got to high school.  Her hard work and that of her teammates has paid off this season.

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“We’re doing a lot better than last year.  We all worked hard in the summer and then throughout the season.  We’ve just been playing so many matches back-to-back, and we’ve really improved as a team,” Baumgard said.  

In addition to work ethic, Baumgard cites the team’s bond as a big part of its success and feels that bond helps the team overcome any challenges they face.

“I love how close we are on and off the court and that bond really helps when it comes to supporting each other and motivating each other at matches and at practice,” Baumard said. “For me personally, confidence is my biggest challenge.  Tennis is really a mental game and a lot of people don’t realize that it’s a sport that takes a lot of mental strength. Sometimes if you don’t start off well it can hinder you. It’s hard to pick yourself up and battle through the match.”

In addition to her teammates, Baumgard has another great source of support and encouragement, her grandfather -- her biggest fan. 

“My grandpa comes to every single match,” she said.  “Having his support means the world to me. It’s just been the best thing.”

The ending of her VHS tennis career is bittersweet for Baumgard.  She’s thrilled to end on a high note, but after having such a great season with her team she’s sad to see it come to an end.  

“I’m just so happy with how well we’ve done this season and how we are all genuinely excited to go to matches and practices and just be together as a team,” Baumgard said.  “To think of it ending is kind of sad actually. Mr. Thai is just the best coach ever and I love my team. The thought of leaving him and leaving my team is not the best feeling.  I’ll really miss it.”

TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove  is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.

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