Hilliker/Kovaleski was a great duo for Ludlowe girls tennis
What makes a successful doubles tennis team?
It's a question often asked that does not have a definitive answer. Singles players must be talented, athletic, mentally-tough players who can excel over elements and the opposing players.
But a doubles tandem incorporates two egos, two opinions and those don't always co-exist.
Hilliker and Kovaleski finished 22-2-- with both losses coming against New Canaan-- reaching the State Open's second round. Hilliker and Kovaleski were named the team's Most Valuable Players.
"I was thrilled with the chemistry they developed," Ludlowe coach John Reisert said. "Their skill sets worked well together."
They also led the team in Reisert's "bagel" category, for most 6-0 sets.
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Even Hilliker/Kovaleski's two losses were suspect. The duo fell in a third set to Amanda Merjian and Phoebe Wilks in less-than-ideal conditions.
"It was raining and the New Canaan players wanted to keep playing," Hilliker said. "We wanted to stop because it was raining pretty bad."
"We really would've liked to play them again too," Kovaleski said.
Kovaleski was a doubles player every year with Ludlowe and was paired with Liz Waldvogel in 2011 as a junior. Hilliker was the team's No. 4 singles player as a sophomore and third-singles player as a junior.
"I didn't think I'd play doubles this year," Hilliker said.
But during the 2012 tryouts, Reisert shifted Hilliker back to doubles and with a familiar partner, Kovaleski. The duo played as a tandem on junior varsity as freshmen, with much success, and Reisert wanted to prey on that familiarity.
"It wasn't as random as you'd expect," Reisert said. "I knew they'd played together before and I knew they had chemistry."
Hilliker was more than willing to play doubles for the opportunity to reach the highest level in her senior year.
"I wanted a chance to play at states," she said.
Yet, Reisert-- who has coached girls tennis at Ludlowe since Fairfield High School split-- believes chemistry is different from friendship, and one is required from a doubles group.
"I've had teams where I've found out after the fact that the girls were not the best of friends," Reisert said. "And they were successful doubles teams too."
The girls became friends because of their play together and time spent on varsity with one another. Both assessed that their friendly relationship was key to their success.
"She's one of my best friends," Hilliker said of Kovaleski. "We became friendly because of tennis."
"I was comfortable with (Hilliker) and it made a big difference," Kovaleski said. "We wanted to play together."
Their games complemented each other. Hilliker, the strong singles player, was an expert volleyer, and Kovaleski seized points with her ability to finish at the net.
"Morgan is a great singles player, and can handle anything coming back to her," Reisert said. "Ellen has incredible wingspan and did not mis-hit many."
They also fed off each other mentally, sensing when the other needed a lift and realizing when they could capitalize on their opponents' weaknesses.
"They tried to get in our heads," Hilliker said. "But we were calm and focused and stuck to our game plan."
They also credited Reisert.
"Whenever we were down in points, he'd give us advice on how to get better," Kovaleski said.
Reisert realizes the hole his most valuable players will leave as they will graduate on Thursday June 21.
"They were our MVPs" Reisert said. "They gave us that automatic one point in many of our matches and took pressure off the other girls."
Hilliker is off to Elon University in North Carolina and Kovaleski will attend the University of Dayton. Both are interested in club tennis, and-- despite the 450-or-so miles between their campuses-- will find time to play.
"We'll definitely make time to play together," Hilliker said.