Dons’ 9 preparing for state event

WEIRTON – Matt and Christina Conforti’s tennis careers are winding down at the same place where they actually began.

When the twins were about 8 years old their father took them to the YMCA in Robinson, Pa. to introduce them to the sport at the facility’s indoor courts.

Matt has been a tennis diehard for the past 10 years, taking lessons with professional coaches and playing in regional tournaments outside of the high school slate. Christina quit in the seventh grade to focus more on soccer.

“I picked it up pretty easily in the beginning,” Christina said. “I used to beat (Matt) for a long time. Then he started getting better than me.

“That’s why I quit.”

Laughing, Matt agreed.

“She was a lot better than me when we started out,” he said. “But I just stuck with it. It’s my sport and I’ve gotten a lot better at it.”

On Tuesday, Christina, Matt and most of the other tennis players at Weirton Madonna were at the YMCA on Montour Rd. for a final practice before the West Virginia state tournament which begins Thursday at 9 a.m.

“It’s pretty nice and funny that it worked that way,” Christina said of her time spent at the Robinson YMCA.

She started playing tennis again as a freshman, as well as soccer. Christina is attending West Liberty in the fall, but won’t be playing sports. Matt will join the Hilltoppers tennis team. He is making his fourth-straight trip to the state tournament. Last year, he was eliminated in the semifinals.

“When I was younger, I really didn’t have any expectations,” said Matt, who was 18-3 overall in his senior season. “I didn’t really know what could happen in the future. I just picked it up as a hobby. I started liking it more and fell in love with it.”

Their older brother, Nick, is a 2013 Madonna grad and also made the state tournament. Their cousin, Elizabeth, is currently a Madonna sophomore, also on the tennis team, and also a state qualifier.

In fact, nine total Blue Dons have are making the trip to Charleston. Ali Welch is a repeat qualifier, but Morgan Duerr, Thomas Gianni, Alan Alimario, Ryan Watts and Cole Roberts are going for the first time.

Elizabeth Conforti is undefeated against regional opponents this year. She is also going to state for the first time, but is one of the few seasoned veterans. She started playing in fourth grade and began alongside Christina and Matt.

“Our dads taught us the game together,” Elizabeth said. “We’d do our own thing a lot of the time but we spent a lot of time playing together.”

Watts and Roberts, both seniors, just started playing last summer.

“We weren’t expecting to make it to state,” Watts said.

“We weren’t even expecting to make varsity,” Roberts added.

They’re doubles partners who won their first 10 matches to start the season. Watts and Roberts, also members of the golf team, went 12-1 in the region and finished 17-3 overall.

“It took lots of practice,” Watts said. “We got to know where each other is going. We’ve been good friends for a while so we had strong chemistry coming in.”

Upon returning from Charleston, they’ll change right into a cap and gown as Madonna’s graduation is on Sunday.

“It’ll be the perfect way to go out,” Watts said.

Roberts is attending Wheeling Jesuit and Watts is going to West Virginia University.

Gianni will join him at WVU as a pharmacy student.

It’s only his second year playing tennis, but he found success right away making it to the regional final in 2013.

“I never thought I’d do that,” Gianni said. “Making it to state is just unbelievable.

“I picked it up rather quickly,” the former basketball, baseball, soccer and golf enthusiast added. “Just to get the state of mind that you’re out on the court with nobody there talking to you makes it a little different.”

Gianni went 12-7 overall in singles play. As Matt Conforti’s doubles partner, they went 11-3 in the region and 16-6 overall.

Welch and Christina Conforti went 12-4 in the region and 15-7 overall as No. 1 doubles. Duerr and Elizabeth Conforti went 15-2 in the region and 17-5 overall.

“We had to work a lot harder than last year,” Duerr said. “We were partners then and didn’t start off too well. We’ve improved a lot.

“Doubles takes a lot of communication. You have to trust the other person to hit it over. That’s what we’ve worked on mostly this year; just being on the same page.”

As a singles player, Welch went 11-5 in the region and 14-8 overall. Alimario was undefeated in the region and 17-3 overall.

“I was optimistic as I saw the kids practicing before the season even started,” said Madonna coach Kelly Sinsigalli. “Truthfully, I was just stunned at our continued success. We tested ourselves against some great competition this season and that just made our team stronger.

“The general cohesiveness of this group is inspiring. They really came together.”

Duerr and Elizabeth Conforti, still underclassmen, are optimistic for the weekend.

“The goal will be to do even better next year, though,” Conforti said.

But for cousin Christina, there is no next year.

It’s now or never.

“It’s kind of sad that this is my last high school game, match or meet in anything,” she said. “So I’m ready to dominate and go out on top.”