Following the conclusion of Samantha Tepes’ junior season with the Shawnee girls tennis team last fall, head coach Sarah Fitzgerald started digging.
Tepes began preparing for her senior year after racking up a staggering 60 wins in her first three years with the Renegades. By connecting with former coaches of the program – and with Fitzgerald’s best efforts – Tepes may already have the program’s career wins record.
The problem is, program records don’t go back far enough to prove it, according to the coach.
“I’ve reached out and asked former coaches and no one really knows what that record would be,” Fitzgerald explained. “The highest number of career wins that I’ve heard of from one of our former coaches is maybe around 50, which [Tepes] already had through her first three seasons. But unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a solid number-one record holder that we know of.”
With the current girls tennis season a little more than a month old, Tepes has started her senior season 16-0, bringing her career record up to 76-10, a mark her coach says is mind-boggling, especially since Tepes’ season was shortened by COVID.
With whatever additional number of wins the senior is able to rack up during the fall season, Tepes will leave Shawnee next spring as the girls tennis career wins record holder. There’s no dispute about how good Tepes has been in her high-school career, according to Fitzgerald.
“She is the best player we’ve ever had in the program,” the coach said.
Tepes has already won the Burlington County Open Individual title for the first time in her career this season, while also wrapping up the Olympic Conference Championship for the third time. Since the latter tournament was canceled by COVID two falls ago, Tepes has won it all three years during her time with the Renegades.
Accomplishing those wins, Tepes said, was an obvious goal for her senior season.
“Those were definitely two big goals I had coming in this season,” she said. “After I won [the Olympic Conference title] my freshman year, I just wanted to keep on winning it, so I did pretty much whatever I could to keep getting better, with constant training, so that I could say I won it every year that I played in it.
“It also meant a lot to finally win the Burlington County Open for the first time.”
Tepes feels she’s grown the most over her four years in her mentality as a tennis player, having continued to grow in her game IQ over time.
“The thing that I think I’ve really worked on the most is the mentality of being a tennis player,” she said. “A lot goes on with your mental state, really, throughout a match, and being able to push through that and block all the negativity out is something I’ve gotten a lot better at.”
Having coached Tepes during the first four years of her tenure at Shawnee, Fitzgerald said both Tepes’ mentality and relationship with her teammates have been the best part of Tepes’ development to watch. The senior was already a finely-tuned player when she reached high school.
“Even from a young age, she was so mentally strong, and it’s only grown more noticeable as she’s gotten older,” Fitzgerald said. “She’s always able to get to that next point and focus on just that point and not reflect on a previous good or bad point.
“She’s so dominant and just a phenomenal player.’
Fitzgerald also noted Tepes’ outreach to other players.
“She’s a two-year captain for us, but from a coaching standpoint, the advice that she’s able to give the other singles players and the doubles players makes her like another coach out there with how she can recognize something in an opponent and point it out to a teammate,” the coach said.
Along with a roster full of crucial players, Tepes helped the Renegades clinch the program’s second sectional title last season with a 3-2 win over Cherry Hill East in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 sectional championship game. The Eastern program’s first title came in 1979.
With the team returning five of its seven starters from last year, Tepes said the main goal entering this season is to bring that title home once again.
“Last season was surreal,” she recalled. “We as a team put in so much effort to make that happen, and we were able to do that because we all wanted the same thing. And that’s what we want again this season.”