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All-Area tennis: Ciccone, Nichols led Bears’ surge

BY JUSTIN RICE

Eric Ciccone and Taylor Nichols were both leaders this spring for Riverbend’s boys

and girls tennis teams. Leaders of two different styles, but unquestionably leaders for the Fredericksburg area’s two best teams in 2012.

Ciccone and Nichols, both seniors, are The Free Lance–Star’s boys and girls tennis players of the year—not just for their exceptional individual results, but also for the unprecedented success their teams enjoyed.

Nichols won every time out at No. 1 during Riverbend’s girls matches all the way through the Bears’ first-ever Northwest Region championship.

Ciccone was 18–3 in singles and 20–1 in doubles to help Riverbend’s boys team win its first Commonwealth District regular-season title.

They truly led their teams; they just did it with two different styles.

Nichols, who was also last year’s FLS player of the year, was Riverbend’s most talented player, but she also set an example for the rest of the lineup in how to practice; how to play; and how to handle both winning and losing.

“She came in and set the bar high and made all the other girls want to reach that goal,” Bears girls coach Cindy Edwards said. “She did a good job showing the other girls what they were capable of. And she took her tennis to a level no one else at Riverbend ever has.”

Along with co-captains Julia Klaczynski and Halley Edwards, Nichols pushed Riverbend’s players hard through the preseason, building a close-knit group that advanced to the Group AAA state team quarterfinals.

“I loved our team this year,” said Nichols, who was one of seven seniors on Riverbend’s roster. “Everyone was so supportive. I enjoyed that a lot—cheering on the rest of the team, and being a leader and motivator.”

Ciccone’s leadership came more from his ability on the court.

“He led by his play,” Riverbend boys coach Randy Garr said. “His level of play, his abilities were just a little bit above our other guys’. If he won, we won. That’s how our season went.”

Ciccone focused on soccer growing up, but he had taken some tennis lessons from Garr. The coach knew Ciccone had tennis talent. He knew his athleticism would be an asset on the court.

And he knew Ciccone was playing soccer as a freshman.

“When I hit with him, I was thinking, ‘This kid better be a darn good soccer player, because he can play [tennis],’” Garr said.

When they’d see each other at school, Garr would ask how soccer was, and if Ciccone was ready to play tennis.

As a sophomore, Ciccone made the switch. He was Riverbend’s No. 3 singles player that first season, its No. 2 as a junior, and No. 1 this year.

“It went from it being a backup sport,” Ciccone said. “to my main sport.”

His best attribute, according to Garr, is pure athleticism.

“This guy is one of the better athletes that I’ve ever seen,” Garr said. “It wouldn’t matter what sport he played.

“He’s quick. He’s agile. He can volley like no kid I’ve ever had. He could just adapt to just about to anything. If he’s on a roll, he could beat just about anybody.”

Ciccone plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University and play club tennis. Nichols will play on the tennis team at Fairmont State.

Justin Rice: 540/368-5045

jrice@freelancestar.com

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