While the Red Bank Catholic girls’ tennis team couldn’t quite get past its perennial nemesis, it will still go down as a banner year for coach Lynn DiGioia’s squad.

The Caseys are honing in on their first Shore Conference Class A Central Division title and their first division crown of any kind since 2012. They won the Monmouth County Tournament team title, and all three singles players claimed flight championships. That was followed by their first Shore Conference Tournament crown since 2012, which snapped Holmdel’s six-year grip on the trophy.

The magical ride hit a bump Oct. 15 in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public A championship match, when Pingry took a 3-2 victory thanks to a grueling, three-set win at third singles. It was the fourth straight year the Big Blue defeated RBC in the sectional final.

Nonetheless, it could not take away from a memorable campaign.

"We’ve had a phenomenal season; I’m really happy," said DiGioia, whose team carries a 16-1 record into its final three regular-season matches. "Winning the Shore Conference Tournament was a really big deal for us. The kids are really nice, the parents are very supportive.”

And the talent is very evident.

It starts with sophomore first singles player Daria Smetannikov, whose only loss this season came in three sets in the NJSIAA Individual Tournament semifinals. Smetannikov is a nationally ranked player who enrolled at RBC as a freshman but did not come out for tennis until this season at the urging of senior teammates Julie Moschella and Sarah Fazzolari.

It was also a good thing for the team.

“She’s a hard hitter; she’s really an amazing player,” the coach said. “Overall, she’s very quick, she has a swinging volley that’s unbelievable and a strong serve. She just has an all-around strong game. She’s also very good at shot selection and knowing when to use a big shot.”

Few teams have the luxury of a quality No. 1 player competing at second singles, but that’s what RBC got when Smetannikov’s arrival dropped Moschella to No. 2. Like Smetannikov, Moschella is unbeaten in every match except the state singles tournament. 

“She was also undefeated last year in regular play,” DiGioia said. “We knew with the addition of Daria that Julie would be number two and be awesome in that position. Julie is a thinker. She has very good strategy – she’s very quick; she has a great drop shot, slice, and a powerful forehand.”

Moschella is a four-year varsity starter and is committed to play next year at Babson College, Wellesley, Mass., where she plans to major in business.

Like Moschella, Fazzolari dropped down a slot to third singles and also enjoyed a brilliant season. Her only losses have come in the state singles tournament and the sectional final with Pingry. She is one of those rare third singles players that competed in the individual states, which is predominantly composed of first singles with some second singles.

“She was successful at two last year, so I knew she’d be strong at three,” DiGioia said. “She always tries her best, she listens to direction. She’s quick, too. She has a game where she can hit the hard shot or slow the pace down. I decided to enter her in states, and she won a match there.”

The first doubles team was composed of sophomore Gretchen Grunbaum and junior Kaitlyn Trageser.

“Gretchen has a very powerful serve and really nice slice volley at the net,” DiGioia noted. “She’s very quick, can get to the ball and has a very positive attitude. Kaitlyn is a good communicator on the court and has good ground strokes. They have good chemistry and communicate well together.”

Freshman Isabella Holavach and sophomore Lizzie Povalski formed a young second doubles team.

“Isabella has a lot of potential,” DiGioia said. “She stepped right into varsity in her first year, and she’s very good at the net. She has good net sense. Lizzie is the heart of our team. She always tries hard. We have no doubts her heart is in every match she plays.”

Rounding out the team are juniors Lauren Yu, Maria Ryan and Kerri Keane, sophomore Ashley Mian and senior Katie Esposito, who was hindered by health issues this season. DiGioia also praised JV coach Chris Reisner as being “a big help to me.”

It is a team that leans on its faith, as the coach noted, “after the introductions at every match, the girls get in a circle and they pray together.”

After that, they would go out and win together.