VERONA, NJ — A 16-6 record in 2019 helped earn the Verona High School girls tennis program a promotion of sorts.

The Lady Hillbillies will be moving up a division to the Super Essex Conference Liberty Division, where they'll be playing a tougher slate of opponents than they did last season.

Verona will open its curtailed (due to NJSIAA COVID-19 restrictions) 2020 season on Thursday, Oct. 1 at Wayne Valley.

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"We are moving up to the SEC Liberty Division and will be playing the best teams in Essex County this year," said Verona girls tennis coach Jonathan Thai. "This team may not have the most varsity match experience, but they know how to compete."

Thai calls the team's lineup "wide open after graduating six starters."

Among the returning players this year are junior Emma Derderian, who played second doubles last season and started the majority of Verona's matches; junior Katie Hunt; senior Claire Jackson, who played several matches at second doubles last year; and seniors Paige Hensal and Emma Ramsthaler.

Battling for spots in the lineup are three sophomores, Emily Baumgard, Cassie Collucci and Nadine Sharabi; two seniors, Jacqui DeVivo and Bridget O'Donnell; and Dylan Conway.

"We have a blend of youth and experience," Thai said. "But we lack varsity match experience throughout the lineup."

The coach said that despite lacking an abundance of varsity experience, "they know how to compete. We won several 3-2 matches this year, so we will have to rely on our depth again to play against the top teams not just in the county, but in the state, as well."