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Quite a match



Published: Wed, September 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Boardman duofinished third at state last season and wants more.

By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

BOARDMAN -- One is wound tighter than her racket strings. The other is as calm as an afternoon nap.

Together they form the best high school doubles team in the state.

They hope.

Boardman High seniors Stephanie Berry and Gina Peretti have been playing tennis together since they were 7. They're best friends -- just like their parents were best friends when they were seniors at Boardman High in 1977.

Berry is older, 18, left-handed and more emotional.

"She's a head case," Peretti said.

"I'm a head case," Berry said.

Peretti is younger, 17, right-handed and more balanced.

"I get down easily and she's always up," Berry said. "We're good for each other."

History at state

They've qualified for the Division I state tournament the past two years, finishing third last season.

They played their worst match of the season -- losing to Upper Arlington in the first match, 6-1, 6-4 -- and their best match -- beating Cincinnati Ursuline Academy -- on the same day. Then they drove back and went to Boardman's Homecoming dance.

"We had to wake up at 5 a.m. because Stephanie has to be the first person at the courts," Peretti said. "We were supposed to play at 9, but we didn't play until 12. And the team we beat was better than the team we lost to."

Added Berry, "We played the best match of our lives and our worst match of our lives on the same day."

Both said finishing third was the highlight of their tennis careers. Both wonder what would have happened had they played their best in both matches.

Both want to stop wondering.

"We could have won it last year," Peretti said. "This year, we want to win it."

All that stands in their way are section and district tournaments, four matches at the state tournament and, oh yeah, the returning state champions -- seniors Angie Bhat and Kate Lohner of Toledo St. Ursula Academy.

Positions

During the regular season, Peretti (20-3) plays No. 1 singles and Berry (21-2) plays No. 2.

They practice as a doubles team several times a week with Peretti's brother and Boardman's coach, Jeff Hammerton -- sometimes as much as five hours a day.

"Sometimes when I play a regular-season match, especially the [Steel Valley Conference] matches, it doesn't even feel like I've played tennis," Berry said. "So we practice afterward. We're constantly playing. We know we have to work really hard if we want to get back to state."

Hammerton, a second-year coach, said, "They're the two hardest workers in the area. They're always doing something."

Hammerton lost in the first round of the state doubles tournament when he was a senior at Boardman in 1992.

"We drove all the way down there and I think we were done in 15 minutes," he said with a laugh.

It's important that Peretti and Berry sweep the section and district tournaments so they get an easier draw in Columbus, Hammerton said. That way, they won't have to face a No. 1 seed until the second day.

"And this is a clich & eacute;, but you also have to be lucky," he said.

Down the road

The state tournament is Oct. 3. It could be the last time Peretti and Berry play together in a school competition. Peretti wants to major in pharmacy in college; Berry in architecture.

They have several schools recruiting them as a doubles team -- Ohio Northern and Duquesne to name two -- but none of the schools offer both majors.

"We're not ruling it out, but we probably won't get to go to the same school," Peretti said.

"I really don't want to give up tennis," Berry said, "but ultimately I think my career will have to come first."

scalzo@vindy.com




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