Karissa Ghigiarelli might only be 14, but she’s already got a bigtime serve and volley game.
A freshman member of Riverside Junior-Senior High School’s girls tennis team, Ghigiarelli dominated singles play this year on the way to capturing the District 2 Class 2A championship — a first for a Riverside player.
On Friday, the Moosic resident will travel to Hershey to compete in the PIAA state tournament.
A cyber school student, Ghigiarelli is fully committed to her game. She commutes to Allentown five days a week to train with her coach, Todd Kane, and spends her weekends playing in far-flung tournaments against some of the best young tennis players both domestically and internationally.
“Cyber school allows me to work around my tennis. If I went to a traditional school, I wouldn’t be able to focus on that,” said Karissa, 14, the daughter of Christy and Chad Ghigiarelli.
“What’s great is that the whole Riverside School District is behind her all the way,” added Christy Ghigiarelli.
Ghigiarelli first started playing tennis at age 5 at Birchwood Tennis & Fitness Club in Clarks Summit. She took to the sport naturally but didn’t get completely serious about it until about two years ago when she started working with Kane, a veteran coach who has worked with a number of United States Tennis Association (USTA) players.
“He’s really taught me how to compete and get into tournaments. He’s taught me to play in a different style. A lot of girls hit flat, but I hit with spin. It gives me a lot more control,” said Ghigiarelli, who counts Rafael Nadal and Angelique Kerber among her favorite tennis players.
So, just what is it about the sport that ignites her passion?
“I like tennis because I love to compete, and every match is different,” she said. “You always have to adjust your style, your game, to everyone you’re playing. It really makes you think. I like that because I control everything that happens.”
To give you an idea of Ghigiarelli’s busy schedule, after competing in Hershey at states, she’ll travel to Anguilla to compete in an international tournament. Then, she’ll go to Erie to play in a big middle states tournament.
About a month ago, she competed in her first international tournament in Puerto Rico. There, she played against elite players from Costa Rica, China and Australia.
“It didn’t go as well as I hoped it would, but it was still a really good experience,” Ghigiarelli said. “I like playing up in the older age groups against older and more experienced players. Playing more competitive players definitely helps me.”
Ghigiarelli’s dedication extends off the court, as well. When she’s not practicing, she’s running and doing strength and kettle bell training. And, of course, there’s her studies — quite often, she’s working on homework on the car ride to and from Allentown.
“You have to be disciplined, and she is,” said Christy Ghigiarelli. “It’s all her in terms of motivation.”
Ghigiarelli was thrilled to have the chance to compete on the Riverside tennis team this season. She went undefeated in Lackawanna League play and, in fact, was barely challenged.
She said her coach, Robert Thomas, has been “crazy supportive,” as have her teammates.
At states, she expects to play a couple of players she’s competed against at other tournaments. She’s going in confident about her chances.
“I’m very excited. I think I can do it,” said Ghigiarelli, whose 12-year-old brother, Tony, also plays tennis.
Someday, Ghigiarelli would love the chance to play professional tennis. Until then, though, she realizes she’s got a lot of hard work and dedication ahead of her.
“I would love to get a scholarship to play Division 1 tennis somewhere,” she said. “If I got to play at a school like Penn State, that would be really cool.”
Meet Karissa Ghigiarelli Age: 14
Family: parents, Christy and Chad Ghigiarelli; brother, Tony.
Karissa Ghigiarelli dominated singles play this year on the way to capturing the District 2 Class 2A championship.