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Senior captain Sam Riordan finished with a record of 64-5 in her career with the Hand girls’ tennis team. She also helped the Tigers establish themselves as one of the most dominant squads in the state. (Photo courtesy of Sam Riordan )
When Sam Riordan moved to Madison as a 1st-grader, she started taking tennis lessons at Madison Racquet & Swim Club. Coincidentally, two of Sam’s future teammates on the Hand girls’ tennis team—fellow senior captains Annie Barrett and Anna Lang—were also in attendance at these lessons. Sam’s love for the sport skyrocketed from there, and she’s gone on to have an immense amount of success during her career.
“I’ve been playing tennis for as long as I can remember,” says Sam. “Funny enough, Anna and Annie were there with me at my first clinic, and now we’re all captains together.”
Sam made an immediate impact for the Tigers while competing alongside Lang at the No. 1 doubles spot as a freshman. The duo helped Hand put together an undefeated season that saw the team win an SCC championship and a Class M state title. Sam went on to play No. 1 singles for Head Coach Kitty Palmer’s squad in each of the last two seasons.
“Sam was the driving force that led our team’s will to win,” Palmer says. “Sam is tremendously competitive, as she even hated to lose in practice. There was never a question that Sam would give her all every point.”
Even though her career got cut short a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sam earned a wealth of accolades during her time with the Tigers. Sam was a three-time All-SCC Division I selection, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC Tournament in her sophomore and junior years, made the All-State Team three times, and was twice selected as Hand’s Most Valuable Player. On top of that, Sam is an SCC Scholar Athlete recipient and also a member of the National Honor Society at Daniel Hand.
“I would love for my teammates, especially my sister Lindsay, to know that everything I have achieved in my time at Hand is because of them. Without their support and friendships, I would never be the person or player that I am today,” Sam says. “Although my heart is broken that we did not get one last season together, I am so confident that they will be just fine without us.”
Sam has been the ultimate competitor throughout her career on the court. She prides herself on never taking a single point off and is constantly working hard to improve her game. Sam participated in a clinic that featured 11 boys, and she believes that pushed her to get better and make her work that much harder.
“My favorite part of tennis is competing,” says Sam. “I’m definitely a competitor, and I love playing in SCCs, states, and State Opens. I am very driven to win for the team, and I do not give up.”
Sam posted an overall record of 64-5 for her high school career. Among all the victories, Sam notes one big win that will stick with her forever. In the No. 1 singles match of last year’s SCC final, Sam rallied for a three-set victory against Sarah Bullers of Amity to help the Tigers beat the Spartans and secure their third-straight conference title. Hand went on to claim the Class M state crown on its way to an another undefeated season.
“My favorite memory of Hand tennis was playing in the SCC finals last year against my rival,” Sam says. “I was losing 2-5 in the first set and fought my way back to a 5-7 first set loss. I came back and won the next two sets 6-3, 6-3 and celebrated with my family, as well as the girls’ and boys’ teams at Hand.”
Coach Palmer says that Sam’s “competitive fire and team determination are irreplaceable.” In turn, Sam appreciates that she has such a good relationship with Palmer. Sam has been working with Palmer since she started playing tennis, and their bond has only grown stronger in the ensuing years.
“I adore Kitty. She’s been my coach since I was super young and, throughout my whole life, all I have tried to do is make her proud,” says Sam. “She has coached me through some of my toughest matches and has cheered me on through some of my biggest victories. I am heartbroken that we didn’t [get] one last season together, but I hope I have made her proud.”
Sam also played for the girls’ soccer squad at Hand, but decided to step away from the game as a senior in order to focus more on tennis. Still, Sam thoroughly enjoyed the team element of the soccer while patrolling the pitch for the Tigers.
“I absolutely loved soccer, and I loved being a part of that team,” Sam says. “I had the best of both worlds, as soccer is loud and I am on the field with my 10 teammates, whereas in tennis, I’m on the court alone.”
When Sam graduates from Hand, she plans on playing tennis at Colby College in Maine. She also has aspirations of working as a physician’s assistant (PA) one day. While she will miss competing for her hometown high school, Sam feels that the Tigers are in great shape as a program going forward.
“I hope to do a pre-med track with the goal of becoming a PA,” says Sam. “I’m going to miss the team at Hand, but I know that my sister will be able to pick up where I left off at No. 1 singles flawlessly, and I know that the team is capable of doing amazing things in the future.”