Cassidy and Jessie Cruz, the senior and sophomore duo from New Rochelle, won last season's doubles tennis state championship as little-known underdogs.
Taking on a new role as favorites and top seeds, the even-keeled sisters demonstrated a testament to their mental focus as they rallied to defeat the Edgemont team of sophomore Tomo Iwasaki and junior Alexa Goldberg, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3, at the Tri-City Fitness center Monday to claim back-to-back state doubles titles.
The Cruz tandem lost just four sets combined in the sectional and state tournaments, and defeated the Edgemont pair for the third time this season. They remain the only state champions in the Huguenots' girls tennis history.
"We really wanted it," said Cassidy Cruz, a three-star recruit who has given an oral commitment to play tennis at Lehigh University next fall. "We had to play our hardest.
"This was really exciting because this was my last high school match. To win a second time was a big deal."
Iwasaki, also a three-star recruit and ranked No. 13 in the state by TennisRecruiting.net, and Goldberg (ranked No. 46) gave them all they could handle in a 2-hour, 15-minute match.
But the Panthers had trouble winning points on first serve, and that left an opening for the Huguenots to break them twice in the third set.
The duo needs to work on "the fundamentals like first serves, overheads and volleys," first-year Edgemont coach Katie Feinstein said. "But they did their best and left it out there. It makes them hungrier for next year. It's disappointing, but they gave it their all and I'm really proud of them."
The match could have slipped away from the Cruz sisters, especially when a call by the line judge was ruled in the Edgemont duo's favor at a critical juncture in the first-set tiebreaker. Instead of a 5-2 lead for New Rochelle, the lead narrowed to 4-3, causing the sisters to become visibly upset.
Cassidy Cruz pleaded her case to the line judge that an Edgemont return was out of bounds, but the judge awarded the point to the Panthers because she did not hear Cassidy call it "out."
"The ref thought that I was having a conversation with Jessie," Cassidy said. "We were kind of rattled because (the match) was closer. It was really upsetting."
The first set eventually went to Iwasaki and Goldberg as the sisters left the court for several minutes in an agitated state.
"We went to the bathroom after the first set and got ourselves together," Jessie said. "We had to forget about the first set and just play harder."
New Rochelle coach Mike Sgobbo felt the match began to turn during the third game of the second set.
"It was uncharacteristic of them to make unforced errors in the first set," Sgobbo said. "We just had to focus more and hit better balls. We weren't hitting great volleys, but the placement of those volleys got much better around that third game. Give them a lot of credit for coming back and fighting. That's what champions do."