Sports Person of the Week
Baldwin Emphasized Chemistry as a Two-Team Captain
Caroline Baldwin enjoyed plenty of success as a member of the Warriors’ girls’ tennis and soccer squads, earning the title of captain for each of those teams. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Baldwin )
Caroline Baldwin contributed to the success of two teams during the course of her four years at Valley Regional. As a sophomore, Caroline and then-senior captain Ellie Flynn took first place in the doubles bracket at the Shoreline Conference Tournament on behalf of the Valley girls’ tennis squad. Then last year, she moved into the No. 2 singles spot and helped the Warriors post a 22-2 record that included a trip to the championship match of the Class S State Tournament. Caroline was slated to assume the No. 1 singles position, while leading the team as a senior captain alongside Jill deJongh this spring.
Caroline also took the reins as a senior captain with the Valley girls’ soccer team last fall. Caroline helped the Warriors enjoy a great campaign that saw them advance to the Shoreline Conference Tournament final.
Through all the big moments of Caroline’s career, the most meaningful of them was when she and Flynn topped the competition in the Shoreline doubles tourney. Caroline will always remember winning that championship, although her experience in states last year is also at the top of her list. Caroline played a grueling marathon match in the semifinal round, rallying for the victory to help Valley reach the final.
“Winning the doubles Shoreline Tournament with my partner Ellie Flynn will always be one my biggest achievements,” Caroline says. “In terms of singles, last year in the state semifinals, we were playing Litchfield, and I had a three-hour match. I came out with the win for my team. I stuck it out, and that was something I really enjoyed. In the first set, the girl from Litchfield won 6-4. Then I won 6-3. That took two hours. Our third set was another hour, and I won 7-5. It was crazy.”
Caroline is always motivated to earn a victory whenever she steps on the court. However, Caroline received an extra boost of encouragement from her teammates as she gave it her all throughout that long semifinal contest.
“When I’m playing, I want to win for myself, but I really want to win for my team. I really wanted to help the team move on to the state final, because we’d never been there before,” says Caroline. “If I won, we were definitely going to the finals. I love the other girls so much. I really wanted to win for them.”
Caroline was in line to lead the Warriors on the court this year until all spring sports were sidelined due to COVID-19. Earning a captain’s hat was special for Caroline and, although she didn’t get to officially serve in that role with the tennis team, she did lead the soccer squad as a senior captain during the 2019 campaign.
“Being co-captain with Jill deJongh was something I was looking forward to a lot. She’s one of my best friends, and we were really hopeful for a season. Before the season was canceled, we were trying to get everyone to run every day to stay in shape and stay motivated. We wanted to keep everyone’s spirits up,” Caroline says. “In soccer, I was captain with Sam Calamari. We had good chemistry, along with the other seniors, too. We all just worked well together. It was all so much fun. That’s something I’m going to miss, that type of chemistry.”
Caroline gained a lot of experience between the baselines at Valley and proved a versatile player as part of a doubles tandem or in a singles match. Each role brings its own challenges, but Caroline showed that she can rise to the occasion with the best of them.
“When I was playing doubles, there was a lot more lobbing and anticipating when to close in. In singles, my play is much more aggressive and fast-paced,” says Caroline, who lives in Deep River. “My forehand is a lot stronger than my backhand. I really like the fast-paced play a lot. It’s a very different game. I miss playing with my partner Ellie Flynn. I knew that when she graduated, I wanted to play singles, because I didn’t want to play doubles with anyone else.”
Caroline feels grateful for the support she’s received from her family, including her older brothers Ryan and Kevin, her younger sister Olivia, as well as her mother Jennifer and her father Michael. Additionally, Caroline has a number of coaches whose support has made a huge difference, such as her offseason tennis coach Lisa Dahl, Valley girls’ tennis coach Sally Riggio, and Warriors’ girls’ soccer coach Lauren MacDonald.
“Coach Riggio is such a dedicated coach, and her presence is one of the biggest reasons that I think I’ve been successful. She made tennis feel like a family, and I think that’s how we made it to the state final last year,” Caroline says. “During the offseason, Lisa Dahl would spend hours with me each week at the Madison Racquet Club. By the end of the winter, I noticed how much she affected my play. Coach MacDonald had such a positive influence on me, too. I will keep all of her advice with me the rest of my life.”
Coach Riggio knew that she could always count on Caroline to turn in a quality performance in every match. Riggio describes Caroline as a talented tennis player, but she believes that Caroline’s force of will is perhaps her strongest attribute.
“Caroline embodies heart and grit. She’s a leader on and off the court with a great personality,” Riggio says. “Caroline has the ability to focus during matches at an elite level. Caroline’s mental fortitude is a tremendous asset. She is an amazing young lady with the brightest of futures ahead.”
Later this year, Caroline will attend Fairfield University as part of the school’s nursing program. Caroline says that her decision to enter the medical field stems from the example set by her parents, as well as Coach Riggio, who is the school nurse at Valley Regional.
“My mom is a nurse, and she went to Fairfield University. Coach Riggio is a nurse, too, and she’s just awesome. I have a lot of positive nursing influences in my life,” says Caroline. “My dad is also a doctor and has been working at a [COVID-19] testing center once a week. He has a private practice, but he also works at an urgent care. I’ve learned a lot about the coronavirus through that. If everyone stays safe, hopefully, we will be back to normal soon.”
Caroline’s experience with medical professionals has informed her perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though she missed out on her senior season this spring, Caroline feels appreciative for all the good times she experienced as a student-athlete at Valley Regional.
“It definitely puts missing the season into perspective. As much as I love tennis and the girls, I would rather everyone be safe and healthy, so we can eventually hang out together and play tennis again. I want us to just stay healthy for the betterment of everyone,” Caroline says. “I’m so thankful just to have had three full tennis seasons and four soccer seasons, and all the positive experiences and fun memories are going to stay with me forever.”