This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.06/29/2022 12:00 AM
While she had played the sport since she was three, Zhu Zhu Berger didn’t have an opportunity to compete for the Hand girls’ tennis team until her junior year of high school. During the past two seasons, Zhu Zhu has made a major mark with the Tigers, graduating from the program as both an All-SCC honoree and a state champion.
Zhu Zhu participated in several sports prior to playing tennis, trying out swimming, soccer, field hockey, gymnastics, and horseback riding. Zhu Zhu’s two older brothers, Lucas and Jack, are both tennis players. Zhu Zhu would watch them play and decided that she wanted to compete. After some time, Zhu Zhu knew that tennis would be the sport for her.
“When I was younger, I was involved in a lot of sports, too. It wasn’t a singular dedication,” says Zhu Zhu. “As I started to get older, I really started to focus on tennis. I realized I liked playing tennis more than a lot of the other sports I had been playing. I quit the others and focused on tennis.”
Aside from a few summer tournaments, Zhu Zhu didn’t fully immerse herself in the sport of tennis until her junior year at Hand. Zhu Zhu had been living in New York and then started attending Hand in her sophomore year. Zhu Zhu planned to join the Tigers that year, but the season was canceled.
Zhu Zhu finally got her chance to hit the court for the Tigers as a junior. Zhu Zhu thought that she was going to be playing No. 3 doubles, but shortly before the season began, Zhu Zhu was notified that she would be competing on the No. 1 doubles team alongside Breanna Colonese-DiBello, who was also a junior at the time.
Zhu Zhu enjoys playing doubles and communicating with her partner on the court. Zhu Zhu started building that communication with Colonese-DiBello last season, and the bond they formed proved crucial as both players moved through the program.
“I had known a lot of the girls from playing in the summer and winter with them. It was a great way to meet them and get to know them a little more. Everyone on the team is very welcoming,” Zhu Zhu says. “I walked into my junior year thinking I was going to play No. 3 doubles with a different partner, but I was really excited to play No. 1 doubles with Breanna.”
Zhu Zhu helped the Tigers win the Class L championship in her junior season, clinching the title with a 7-0 win versus Avon in the state final. Zhu Zhu will never forget that bus ride home after Hand claimed the state crown.
“It was an exciting moment. It was my first year on the team, and I was playing in a position I didn’t think I would be playing,” says Zhu Zhu. “It was great to see all the enthusiasm not just from my partner, but all my teammates. The bus ride home was definitely a lot of fun.”
Heading into her senior year, Zhu Zhu spent countless hours working to improve her game during the offseason. Zhu Zhu spent a lot of time playing with Colonese-DiBello, strengthening their chemistry on the court. As she practiced against her Tigers’ teammates, Zhu Zhu saw her tennis skills flourish.
“I felt more comfortable and confident on the court when I started playing against my team in practice. There are a lot of good players. I would get better through practice, and I would get better through playing matches against people who were better than us,” Zhu Zhu says. “As me and my partner started to know each other a little better, we started communicating better and, ultimately, playing better.”
Zhu Zhu and Colonese-DiBello finished with an overall record of 17-5 while playing No. 1 doubles for Hand during the 2022 campaign, helping the Tigers advance to the championship match of the Class M State Tournament. Being her second year teaming up with Colonese-DiBello, Zhu Zhu found that their camaraderie gave them an advantage over other doubles teams.
“We beat some teams that we really struggled against last year. We were really excited to see that improvement in our communication,” says Zhu Zhu. “We were able to play together over the winter, which really helped us maintain that connection that we had created last season.”
Zhu Zhu and Colonese-DiBello went on to qualify for the doubles bracket of the Individual Invitational Tournament this year. Zhu Zhu says that competing among the elite doubles teams in the state showed both of them that all of their hard work had been worth it.
“We were really excited to be able to play there. It was an exciting opportunity,” Zhu Zhu says. “Last season, we didn’t win enough matches to even qualify to be invited. This season, we made it one of our goals to have a better record and be eligible. When we found out we were invited, we were really excited. Through our determination and communication, we were able to play well in the match.”
When the season came to a close, Zhu Zhu and Colonese-DiBello were one of three doubles duos selected to the All-SCC Division I Team. Zhu Zhu felt both surprised and honored that they received such an impressive accolade.
Head Coach John Gage was proud of Zhu Zhu and Colonese-DiBello for earning All-Conference honors. Gage says that Zhu Zhu always brought passion to the court while forming one half of a doubles tandem that piloted the Tigers to success this spring.
“Zhu Zhu is a passionate, well-rounded tennis player who plays so intelligently. Her and Breanna’s partnership at No. 1 doubles was a huge reason for our success as a team this year,” says Gage. “Their growth as a duo this year is hard to overstate. They were a good doubles team in March, and I believe they were exceptional by June.”
Zhu Zhu has continually taken tennis more seriously since she first picked up a racquet. As she saw herself succeed, Zhu Zhu realized how much she wanted to be on the court and was determined to do everything she could to help both herself and the Tigers. For all of her achievements the past two seasons, the most important thing for Zhu Zhu is how being a member of the Hand girls’ tennis program has helped her grow both on and off the court.
“Being a part of Daniel Hand girls’ tennis was not only important to my growth as a tennis player, but also as a person,” says Zhu Zhu. “Being on the team taught me a lot about teamwork and supporting everyone. It taught me about the bigger team aspect and not giving up.”