The Roadrunners' Women's Tennis program is back in the national spotlight, but the Roadrunners' return to the top was anything but easy.
Thanks to a successful run in the NJCAA Division III National Championship Tournament in Peachtree City, GA last weekend, the Runners earned plenty of recognition as they came away with several notable accomplishments, including:
- Three singles players and one doubles team earning All-American Honors.
- A national runnerup finish in the team race behind powerful Oxford-Emory College, which captured a third stratight title.
- Head Coach Kelly Hernandez's selection as NJCAA Division III National Coach of the Year.
First Singles Tori Nugent, Fourth Singles Nicole Andreacchio and Fifth Singles Rachel Ondriceck each turned in second place showings to earn All-American Honors. The First Doubles combo of Nugent and Lexi Pierce also finished as national runnerup to earn All-American status.
Yes, this season's group of Roadrunners successfully helped the college add to an already impressive legacy of three national championships in program history, with the last crown coming in 2014.
It also capped a magnificent turnaround from a dismal 2016 campaign in which a hard-luck team won just one match. But with the addition of premier players, including First Singles standout Nugent (Pennsville), plus a "can-do" attitude instilled in the team by Hernandez, the Runners completed the turnaround in grand fashion.
"What a difference a year makes," said sophomore Lexi Pierce, who played last Fall for RCGC and previously for Woodstown High School. "We owe it all to Coach Kelly (Hernandez). She really recruited a great team and she kept after us from Day 1 that we had a special group, but that we needed to work harder."
Behind Nugent, who rolled through an unbeaten regular season, the Runners compiled a 9-1 regular season record, with its only loss coming to Camden County College. RCGC avenged that loss to the Cougars by winning a 5-4 decision in the rematch in late September, but Camden CC bounced back to claim the Region XIX title over the Roadrunners.
The seesaw battle, however, was not over between RCGC and Camden CC. The Roadrunners earned one more key takeaway from Nationals – their second place finish in the championship tournament was one spot ahead of the Cougars' third place showing!
'We were very happy to come in here and finish ahead of Camden County College," said Hernandez. "We had split with them during the regular season and they won the regions. So it was satisfying to place ahead of them at Nationals. It proved to be a great local rivalry."
The icing on the cake naturally came at the end of the National Championships, Aside from the second place team showing, the Runners emerged with four All-American finishers while Hernandez received Coach of the Year honors!
"We were fortunate to recruit some talented players, but they also bought into our system early on," said Hernandez, a former West Deptford High coach. "The players started putting in some extra practice time, and things took off from there."
Agreed, said Pierce.
"Coach Kelly was right up front with us – we needed to earn our success, and that meant practice," said Pierce. "She always believed in us and never stopped challenging our team.
"There's no question she deserved to be the National Coach of the Year."
Article by Gus Ostrum, RCGC Athletics