Monday June 24, 2013

Kelly Babich didn't want it to end like this.

The Lenox senior was facing the end of her outstanding high school tennis career, trailing 5-1 in the second set of the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinals against Sabis. But more importantly to the Millionaires' top singles player, a loss now would mean the end of Lenox's season, too.

"I just felt like it was the end," she said. "I didn't know that I was going to come back. I didn't want to have one last bad match. I tried to have a good match instead of having a bad memory of that loss."

Somehow Babich did rally, winning that match with Ashley Lewis in three sets and powering Lenox into the sectional championship. She pocketed another win, beating Monument Mountain's Sam White in the Millionaires' 4-1 loss in the final.

That resilience helped earn Babich the title of All-Eagle Most Valuable Player.

"She's just really determined. She doesn't like to lose," said Lenox coach Melissa Alexicko. "She's a hard worker. She did the same thing against Greylock. She's done it twice this year. I've never seen anything like it."

The senior didn't lose very often, dropping once to White during the regular season and falling twice to Western Mass. individual champion Nicole McCann. Babich was dominant in her first year at first singles after being a remarkably consistent second singles and first doubles player the last two years.


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She also earned Lenox's only point in a state semifinal loss to Bromfield last year.

"I think [my career] was really surprising," Babich said. "I wasn't really expecting such a great four seasons. I had a really great time."

Babich said she first took up the game when she was about 5 or 6. She tried other sports, but she always came back to tennis. Evan as a freshman, Alexicko said she could tell Babich loved the sport, coming early and staying late at practices.

Over the years she built a game predicated on patience. Babich could get to virtually every ball and force her opponent into making a mistake. She said it was her Alexicko who told her to just keep getting one more ball back than her opponent. That can frustrate opponents and Babich knows it. She also knows she can't get frustrated when things don't go well and try to go for foolish winners.

"It takes a lot to stay in it instead of just losing it and letting it all go," she said. "I would try doing that if I got frustrated. I would see it didn't work so I had to stop that and calm myself down."

Babich rarely appeared flustered on the court. Like many players, she said she talks to herself from time to time but she tries to keep the scoldings under her breath.

Her ability to manage pressure extended to the team. Babich said she felt, with the three-time defending Western Mass. champions in a bit of a rebuilding mode, she had to win every match at first singles for the team to be successful. She never wavered, even with that pressure. Instead, her success at the top helped her teammates relax.

"She usually almost always won," said teammate Rachel Cogswell. "That was kind of a good thing because we knew we had one locked in. ... It was nice to see her working so hard as well as enjoying the game and being a good sport about everything."

Behind Babich, the Millionaires reached another Western Mass. final, proving her worth as MVP.

"I think her performance this year was outstanding," Alexicko said. "I definitely think she's the best player in Berkshire County. I couldn't have been more happy. She played fantastic. She's a coach's dream. Id take like 20 more of her."