20190621_bta_Girls tennis POY

U-32 senior Ginger Knight hammers a forehand return during a match earlier this season.

Ginger Knight is one of those rare athletes who exudes positive vibes through the good times and the bad.

The U-32 junior wears an ear-to-ear smile and is constantly encouraging her teammates, even when the going gets tough. She helped the Raiders win a cross-country running title in 2017, and this winter she led the Nordic ski team to a championship.

Vermont’s spring season is always a whirlwind due to weather challenges, and the U-32 girls tennis team packed 13 matches into a one-month span. The busy slate didn’t faze Knight, who held down the No. 1 singles position and posted a 10-3 record against elite competition.

After leading the Raiders to a breakthrough semifinal victory over Burr and Burton, Knight solidified her claim as the area’s top talent. Naming her Times Argus Player of the Year was a mere formality.

“This year she worked a lot on her serve, and really got her serve to a place where she was getting some free points off of it,” Raiders coach Tim Flynn said. “But her real strength is her backhand, and then I think her ability to think through the point. She is a really smart tennis player. If somebody’s game is giving her a problem, she is able to analyze what she might do to change it up.”

When Knight joined the tennis team as a freshman, she played mostly No. 3 or 4 singles for a program that only boasted two winning seasons in 16 years. That year the Raiders struggled during an 0-9 campaign, but they nearly stunned seven-time champ Burr and Burton during a 4-3 quarterfinal loss.

Knight bumped up to No. 2 singles as a sophomore, guiding U-32 (9-6) to a quarterfinal victory over Montpelier. This year she took her game to the next level, overpowering opponents with her backhand to dominate her No. 1 singles matches. And unlike many players who hit with pace, Knight easily adapted against less technical opponents who relied on lobs or spin shots.

“Ginger not only can hit the backhand hard, but she can also hit it at a medium pace,” Flynn said. “She can do a couple of different things with her forehand, and this year she also really improved her volleys. So by the end of the year she was definitely feeling more comfortable coming into net and putting away some volleys. She is very receptive and easy to coach, and her game just improved in all ways.”

One of the Raiders’ greatest strength in 2019 was a balanced lineup that could produce points at any position. That team depth had a direct impact on Knight’s individual play because she had so many quality training partners to push her each training session. In particular, fellow endurance star Lucy Krokenberger played a huge role in helping Knight fine-tune her play.

“One of the most important things for Ginger this year was to have another really good player to hit with at every practice, and Lucy really provided that,” Flynn said. “They pushed each other in practice and that was really, really beneficial to both of them. And Lucy is a skier as well, so both of them can go all day.”

That internal competition helped the Raiders (11-2) record their most successful season. Knight was ready to go out of the gate, earning a pair of 6-1, 6-1 victories North Country’s Brianna Ghosn. She swept Spaulding’s Faith Redmond during two eight-game pro-sets, prevailing 8-2 and 8-1. Another highlight to Knight’s season was sparking a sweep over cross-town rival Montpelier, with the Raiders triumphing 5-2 both times. During the first match Knight rallied to a 6-7(4), 6-3, 11-9 victory over Isabelle Boutin. Five days later Knight faced off against Solons standout Bella Luhr and secured a 6-3, 6-0 victory.

“Ginger is starting to put a little topspin on her forehand, and she tried mixing it up with some slice shot this year too,” Flynn said. “She’s been watching pros play, and she goes down to Florida to see her grandmother and goes to a tournament down there. And she watches how they mix it up, and it’s not all the same ball they hit. So this year she was really working on trying to have a little more mix in her game.”

Knight stayed classy during defeats, always battling until the final point. During the first match of the season she suffered a 6-1, 4-6, 10-5 loss against St. Johnsbury’s Alice An. Her only other regular-season defeat was just as close, with BFA-St. Albans star Helen Barrow pulling out a 6-1, 4-6, 10-7 victory.

“The matches that Ginger lost, it never was because she was out of shape,” Flynn said. “She can go the distance with anybody I saw. She had a great match against (Barrow), and she came back and won the second set after dropping the first set handily. She was up in the third-set tiebreaker but lost by slimmest of margins. I think that was a memorable match for her, and I think her game really improved because she took something from that match. She just decided she needed to mix up her shots a little bit more from then on and also approach the net, because (Barrow) was playing got a lot of points at the net.”

Harwood’s Claire McGeorge was another one of Knight’s toughest opponents. Both players off-set each other’s power during a doubleheader, but Knight won a handful of critical break points to close out 8-4 and 8-5 victories. The Raiders drew the Highlanders in the first round of the post-season and Knight did not drop a single game against McGeorge, fueling a 7-0 team victory.

“Ginger beat (McGeorge) twice in the regular season, and it was a little concerning to me when we had to play Harwood a third time,” Flynn said. “But she really played well and did not let up for a second.”

The Raiders’ reward for their quarterfinal victory was a home semifinal date against Burr and Burton. Entering the match history was on the side of the Bulldogs, who were undefeated against U-32 after eliminating the Raiders in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2017. There were plenty of nerves as the action kicked off, but U-32 quickly took charge and closed out a 6-1 victory. Knight was untouchable while rolling past Luna Bechstein, 6-0, 6-1.

The Raiders’ season ended in the final with a 5-2 loss against three-time defending champ Woodstock. Despite falling a few points short of a title, U-32’s players had lots to be proud of after earning the first championship appearance in program history. Next year the Raiders are poised to return seven of their top nine athletes, including their No. 1, 2 and 3 singles players.

“Ginger is a born leader in some ways,” Flynn said. “She helped with organizing the uniforms, she helped with organizing Senior Day and helped pull together a team pasta party before playoffs. She is just great with the team camaraderie. She is the kind of player that you absolutely love having on your team because she is so positive and she is helpful to the other members of the team. And plus she is just a really good player.”

Knight has also been a strong force in the community outside of athletics, working with teammate Mia Smith to coordinate a cultural diversity day at U-32. The pair lined up speakers from different cultures and helped run workshops during the event.

“When the girls came to practice that night, I asked them all how it went,” Flynn said. “And they said it was so great — it was one of the best special events they had ever had at U-32. Ginger was really prominent in that, and I know she is very aware about social injustice issues as well. So besides being a leader athletically, she’s also been leader with the whole school by making sure the social justice issues and cultural diversity is at the forefront of what’s going on at U-32. She’s a superstar, there is no doubt about it.”

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