Palumbo Plays Through Injury as Top Doubles Player for Westbrook Girls’ Tennis
Olivia Palumbo picked up a tennis racquet for the first time as a freshman in high school during her first practice with the Westbrook girls’ tennis team and hasn’t looked back since, quickly becoming a star player for the Class S State Championship runner-up squad. Serving as her coach in two different sports and being a mentor who guided her throughout her high school tenure in athletics, Olivia looks up to Knights girls’ tennis Head Coach Paula Fitzgerald, who has helped her find success in multiple capacities.
“I am very thankful to have Fitz as a coach in both tennis and basketball,” says Olivia. “She has made me such a better tennis player by fixing the weak parts of my game. Every day she has a story to tell us that usually relates to what we’re going to work on that day. I enjoy going to practice every day just to see her. It is an honor to be nominated by her.”
Fitzgerald describes Olivia as an important asset to each team that she’s a part of, making an impact on her teammates and embracing an important leadership role.
“As a three-sport athlete (soccer, basketball, tennis) she’s been an important part of each team since her freshman year and now will be moving into a leadership role,” says Fitzgerald. “And this year she demonstrated her leadership skills fighting through a knee injury.”
Olivia played in the No. 1 doubles position on the court this spring and earned Second Team All-Shoreline honors for a second time while helping to lead the Knights to the Class State title game.
“The past two seasons I have made Second Team All-Shoreline,” says Olivia. “I set it as a goal to reach the semifinals in Shorelines so I have something to work towards. Once I got it, it gave me something to be proud of because not many players are chosen.”
The Knights finished the regular season with an impressive 16-1 mark, losing only to Old Lyme. Despite graduating a variety of key seniors last spring, Olivia was proud of the effort her teammates displayed in making a deep postseason run.
“We went into the season not knowing what would happen because we graduated so many players last year,” says Olivia. “Finishing with only one loss and making it to the finals meant that everyone put in the work and wanted to make it far. No one ever gave up and we all tried our best at getting better every time we stepped on the courts.”
At the top doubles spot, Olivia partnered with senior Adriana Stranieri and they served as a powerful duo, taking only one regular season match loss on the campaign. They played in the State Open and received the MVP Award for the team. Olivia and her partner were the integral point in the team’s 4-3 win over Shepaug Valley in the state semifinals to send them to the championship match.
That victory happened to be Olivia’s favorite memory from the season.
“There were a lot of memories made this season but one of my favorites is when my partner Adriana and I defeated Valley 4-3 and it came down to our point,” Olivia says. “We lost the first set then came back and won the next two. After that match, some of us went out to dinner and celebrated the win.”
The Knights earned three postseason victories, defeating Coginchaug in the first-round 6-1 and Bolton in the second round 7-0. Heading into the playoffs, Olivia had the mindset of being backed up against the wall versus familiar and non-familiar opponents.
“Going into the playoffs every match you have to worry about because it could be your last,” says Olivia. “Even though we beat Coginchaug in the regular season we couldn’t take them too easy because they could have surprised us. Playing Bolton and Shepaug I was the most nervous because we didn’t know what to expect since we don’t play them in the regular season.”
Olivia will be one of the two captains heading into next season, alongside junior Megan Bache. Fitzgerald is confident in Olivia’s leadership abilities as she has already seen some of that shine through during her court tenure.
“I would describe her as a quiet leader but one who can give good advice to players on the team,” Fitzgerald says. “They all respect her for her hard work and dedication and players respect her and will not only take her constructive criticism and/or suggestions but ask her for it. She has started for three years, two of those on state runner-up teams. She will be a great leader that can carry on the traditions of the team.”
As Olivia looks ahead and prepares for her final hurrah with the Westbrook girls’ tennis team, she plans on resting in the offseason to continue to recover from a knee surgery she played through this spring and also wants to perfect every asset of her game, including her weaknesses.
“During the offseason, I’m taking a break to recover from a previous injury I had and played through during the season,” says Olivia. “But I also plan on going to the courts and playing with my teammates and working on the weak parts of my game.”