Growing up, Cheshire High School senior Olivia Santoro enjoyed a passion for gymnastics, but after suffering a few concussions, she was told in the seventh grade that she couldn’t do contact sports anymore and had to find another activity.
“I’m not a fast runner, so I decided to pick up tennis in my freshman year at CHS,” Santoro reflected.
While starting later than many of her teammates and opponents, she has more than made up the experience gap. Santoro has been a starter in doubles and singles since her freshman season and this year, she committed to keep playing tennis at Roger Williams University (Rhode Island).
“My teammates have really helped me over the years,” said Santoro. “I didn’t think I could play in college, but I’ve worked hard in the last two years.”
“I’m really happy for her,” said CHS Head Coach Bruce Levine. “I think it is the right kind of school for Liv academically and socially. I feel that they are getting a great athlete and kid.”
Santoro looked at multiple schools, but RWU was the only place that she wanted to play tennis and study at the same time.
“I’m super excited. I know it is the right decision to go there,” stated Santoro. “The team was super welcoming and the campus is really nice. It was a great fit.”
Coached by Barry Gorman in the Commonwealth Coast Conference, RWU women went 15-2 in the 2019-20 season.
“They are losing (three) seniors, so I would like to make an impact and help the team up there next season,” stated Santoro.
In joining the CHS girls’ tennis program four years ago, Santoro earned a spot on the number three doubles team with classmate Christine Anthony.
“I was definitely surprised,” recalled Santoro. “I worked a bit on my game and hoped to make the varsity team, but didn’t expect to start.”
Santoro feels grateful to have had Anthony as her partner and feels that her help has been key.
“She has played tennis for a long time,” said Santoro. “It is nice to have some one next to you cheering you on.”
As sophomores, the friends stayed in doubles and went unbeaten for over a month to start the season. They also made the State Open as Cheshire’s number two team.
“It was a super adrenaline rush,” stated Santoro. “We were moving up a spot (in doubles) and didn’t expect to do that well.”
Last year brought change, as Santoro adjusted to a new coach and role on the team. When Scott Matthews stepped down after coaching eight seasons, Bruce Levine was hired to take over.
“They are both great coaches,” said Santoro. “Bruce switched up the team when he came here. It has been amazing.”
In a lineup change last spring, Santoro moved from doubles to playing the opponent’s top player at number one singles.
“It was a super big jump,” reflected Santoro. “I knew that we needed a girl to take that spot. I worked hard in the off-season.”
It took time to adjust to the different shots and strategies, but Santoro progressed to pick up key victories in the second half of the 2019 season.
“I needed to figure out how to play singles. As the year went on, I was able to beat some players who I lost to the first time we played,” recalled Santoro. “The team had faith in me, too, when I wasn’t sure what I was doing.”
Levine saw improvement from Santoro in practice and matches.
“I told her, win or lose, I’m behind you and the match isn’t all on your shoulders,” said Levine.
At the end of her junior season, Santoro was voted as a quad-captain with Anthony, Jenna DeGennaro, and Sophie Seigel.
“It is a good feeling to be a leader,” said Santoro. “The other captains are really great.”
This year, Santoro hoped to qualify for the State Open in singles, but due to the health crisis involving COVID-19 or coronavirus, the spring sports season has been suspended indefinitely.
“I’m trying to stay positive. If I don’t get to play this year, I would be happy with how I’ve done in the past,” said Santoro. “It would be awesome to get some matches. We have seven seniors and I would love to see where we go with this group.”
Whether or not she takes the court, Santoro wants to support the freshmen and give back to the sport that changed her life.
“I want to keep them getting better, so the program can get another championship under their belt,” explained Santoro.