Read our feature story on SFHS girls tennis below ... and don't miss this special event Friday, August 26!
“Tennis Under the Lights” 3:45 to 10 p.m. Friday, August 26, SFHS will play against Batavia High School at SFHS. There will be neon glow paint, a taco truck, the Little Red Donut Truck, Kona Ice Truck, and a performance by the SFHS Rock Band.Girls Tennis Posts Record Numbers with Team-Family Atmosphere - Special Feature Story
You can feel the energy as you’re walking toward the courts. Banners hang on the fences reading slogans like “Defend This House” and “Play Like a Spartan Today.” Music with a kinetic beat plays from speakers set out on the lawn. The man leading the group, Coach Tom Castronovo, is there early – ready to greet his team for their annual picture day and varsity dinner.
As Castronovo excitedly talks about the year ahead, a player walks up to ask him for a pen, and his attention shifts fully to this new mission. The players come first, and you can tell they feel comfortable approaching their coach and asking for help – even for the small things. As the girls arrive one by one, each of them says hi or sneaks in a high-five before joining the other girls.
Castronovo, who has served as St. Francis High School’s boys and girls tennis coach for 6 years (12 seasons), has a philosophy of inclusion, positivity, and camaraderie to set the tone of the team. His contagious enthusiasm has led to record numbers before the 22-23 season even started: 78 girls are registered. That’s compared to 28 players in his first year.
“That's not only a record here, but we’re one of the largest tennis programs in the state of any size school - public or private,” he said. He admits he was wondering where they would land after 21 seniors graduated last year. As a pleasant surprise, 41 new players, including 20 freshmen, signed up.
While the size of the team is partially due to it being a no-cut program, Castronovo said the real success is the girls’ interest and subsequent desire to improve their game. After his first year coaching with tryouts, he encouraged those who were cut to take lessons and try out the next year.
“They never come back,” he said. “It crushes them to be cut. When we don’t cut them, they get match experience and there’s no substitute for that. You learn quickly when you’re looking at another girl across the court.”
Not to go unmentioned is the coaching team of Mark Sawko, Chris Garcia, and Barb Rueth. Together, they’ve all learned the balance of managing such a large group: everyone makes the team but making varsity is an earned spot.
For the annual varsity dinner on August 18, Castronovo and his fellow coaches arranged a surprise celebrity guest, Vania King – she was 2010 Wimbledon Doubles Champion, 2010 U.S. Open Doubles Champion, and ranked No. 3 in the world that year. King has since started her own nonprofit, Serving Up Hope, and shared a message about the importance of giving back with the girls at the dinner. They were right on track: earlier that day they held a food and supplies drive for Operation Support Our Troops, organized by players Nina O. '23 and Cate B. '24.
Another special event is happening this upcoming Friday, August 26, when the team will play “Tennis Under the Lights” from 3:45 to 10 p.m. against Batavia High School at SFHS. There will be neon glow paint, a taco truck, the Little Red Donut Truck, Kona Ice Truck, and a performance by the SFHS Rock Band.
It’s special events like these that make it more than just a team. Senior Monica S. ’23 has been on the team since her freshman year.
“I look forward to the memories, things like picture day and everyone coming together make it really fun,” she said. “It’s not just a team – we’re a family.”
Sophomore Mia D. ‘25 said she joined her freshman year to make friends and pick up a fall sport.
“Since it starts before school it gives you a chance to meet people,” she said. “Now we’re all friends and we all support each other.”
Amber M. ’25 echoed Mia’s comments. “There are so many girls involved but we all get to know each other really well,” she said.
Castronovo summed it up like this: “We simply want to give every high school girl an opportunity to belong, to learn a new skill, and to be part of a team experience. We provide our girls with a significant added positive dimension to the high school experience by being a part of something bigger than themselves.”