Brianna Gibbs has had a tennis racket in her hand for as long as she can remember … sometimes with mixed results.
“I remember having temper tantrums when I was real young. I was like 3, and I thought I could hit like my parents, and I couldn’t,” she said. “It was like the first time I picked up a racket and I wanted to rally with them.”
Gibbs’ attitude and her goals have changed considerably. Today, the Williamsville East eighth-grader has blossomed into a composed young lady, and her competition is no longer mom and dad rather the best the ECIC has to offer.
On Saturday she took her talents to the next level by winning the ECIC Championship despite still being in middle school. Gibbs beat junior Alana Danieu of East Aurora, 6-1, 7-5, at the Village Glen in Williamsville.
“She’s at a point right now, if anything is going to give her any problem it would come from within,” said ECIC Chairman John Stinneford. “I think it will be interesting if they meet again in sectionals. They were both hitting at incredible angles and with plenty of top spin.”
Gibbs has a solid all-around game, but prefers to attack from the baseline. She has played in her share of USTA events, which have taken her to places like Washington, D.C., Connecticut and New York City.
“She’s pretty motivated, she plays a lot, she enjoys winning,” said East coach Mike Venditti. “She hits with a ton of power for her size, hits with a lot of pace. She’s a good athlete who moves around pretty well.”
Gibbs became just the second eighth-grader to win the ECIC singles title. Another Williamsville East player, Disha Yellayi, won it three years ago. “People say that I hit really hard, and they ask how old I am, and they don’t believe it,” said Gibbs, 14. “I say, ‘thank you,’ and take it as a compliment. I don’t let it affect how I play. They want to see me get better.”
ECIC I: Orchard Park (10-0) has either won or tied for the title for the last eight years. Going back to 2004, the Quakers are an impressive 97-1 in ECIC I with the lone loss to Clarence in 2004. This year all league wins were by scores of 5-0 or 4-1.
“What’s important to me every year is my girls improve, and keep that excitement, keep that desire to get better and better. That’s my focus,” said coach Sandy Trampert. “The winning comes after that. I’ve also had siblings and cousins who want to be a part of this team. Staying connected, that means a lot to us.”
The Hollins sisters, senior Karli and sophomore Haley, will play singles in the sectionals. Last year they were Section VI runners-up as a doubles team and went to states. Both went 10-0 this year as singles players in the ECIC I.
OP has two strong doubles teams. Shayleen Brennan and Nicole Legler are the No. 1 seed for this weekend’s ECIC Doubles Championship while Grace Ruh and Taylor Sayoc are the seed No. 5.
ECIC II: Gibbs led Williamsville East to the ECIC title with an 8-0 record and 10-0 overall.
East’s No. 2 singles player is sophomore Amy Xiao, who has improved her serve immensely and considers her forehand to be her biggest weapon. No. 3 singles is junior Avneet Nagra, who, when playing doubles, partners with Yuhon Sun.
ECIC III: Amherst’s top singles player Hayley Hofmar-Glennon finished fifth at ECICs and qualified for sectionals. The Tigers won ECIC III with an 8-0 record. Maryvale and Iroquois were next with 5-3 marks.
ECIC IV: If Danieu has her way, the Section VI champ will come from East Aurora for the second year in a row. The Blue Devils junior would like to follow in the footsteps of 2011 graduate Taylor Cole, who is now playing for St. Bonaventure.
Danieu went to states in doubles last year, but this year she’s in the singles draw. She won nonleague matches this season against the No. 1s from Clarence, Hamburg, Nichols and Orchard Park to finish 14-0.
Danieu has started on the varsity since eighth grade. Her coach Gary Schutrum said she spends several hours a day on the court.
“She’s that passionate about the sport,” Schutrum said. “And she’s being rewarded for her effort now. She’s consistently working on her game. She’s a pretty gifted athlete. All the other coaches in the school want her, she can do what she wants to do, but she’s made the year-round commitment to tennis.”
Senior Grace Dunbar, Danieu’s state doubles partner last year, will play in the ECIC Doubles this weekend with her sister, Mary. Grace was 10-0 in ECIC IV and 12-2 overall.
Both Dunbar and Danieu went unbeaten the last three years (30-0) in their singles position in ECIC IV.
As a team, East Aurora went 10-0 in ECIC IV and was 12-2 overall with losses to Nichols and Orchard Park. Depew (7-2) gave EA its toughest challenge in the division.
Niagara Frontier League: Coach Kristin Janese of Niagara-Wheatfield had a feeling this was going to be the Falcons’ year. With a lineup of mostly seniors, N-W won the league with a 14-0 record. She said most of her players have been together for five years.
None were starters when the team won its last crown when they were eighth-graders, but it planted the seed for where they could go as seniors. “It gave them a spark just to keep going,” said Janese. “They are competitive, and have had that we-can-do-it attitude from the beginning. It’s awesome. The roles are reversed now and they are the role models.”
The Falcons’ No. 1 senior Elizabeth Barrett and No. 2 Brianna Fiorita both went undefeated in the league. Barrett is a baseliner with a good first serve who’s not afraid to come to the net. “She’s matured a lot,” said Janese. “Instead of going for the winner every time, and every shot has to be perfect, she’s hitting a good shot to set herself up for the winner.”
The NFL’s singles representatives for sectionals are No. 1 Barrett, No. 2 junior Gretchen Ringler of North Tonawanda, No. 3 senior Katie Britt of Lockport and No. 4 is junior Celina Wozniak of Kenmore East.
NFL runner-up Lockport (12-2) had two doubles players who went undefeated, senior Amanda Schrader and senior Alex Costello.
CCAA: Senior Rachel Molé of Frewsburg was crowned the Cattaraugus/Chautauqua County singles champion after she beat senior May Li of Southwestern, 6-2, 6-3. Molé went to states last year at No. 3 singles. Both will be in the mix for the Section VI title.
The league’s top two doubles qualifiers for sectionals have been determined. The No. 1 seed is Elizabeth Rowan and Victoria VanEvery of Southwestern followed by Dori Ruff and Samantha Robbins-Welty of Chautauqua Lake.
Fri.-Sat. ECIC Doubles, Village Glen
Oct. 26-27 Sectionals at Jamestown
Nov. 3-5 State Finals in Albany