By Tim Kelly
If it was easy to define what makes a champion, maybe it would be easy to be one.
In the case of Ocean City High School tennis champs Rosalie Graham and Brynn Bowman, the Cape Atlantic League girls’ doubles top guns, there is no mystery.
“I think their friendship is the major reason for their success,” said Samantha DiMatteo, the Red Raiders’ 10-year veteran coach.
“You can see it on the court,” DiMatteo continued. “They talk about things happening in the match. They have great communication and they are aware of each other’s strengths. I always preach how having fun and enjoying yourself is an important part (of being successful) and these girls embody the philosophy.”
Graham and Bowman went 17-2 as a doubles team and were an integral part of the Raiders’ 17-3 overall team record and Cape Atlantic League tri-championship with Mainland and EHT. It was Ocean City’s first Cape Atlantic girls’ championship since winning it outright in 2011.
Rosalie, a senior, and Brynn, a junior, closed out their days as a doubles team recently at the CAL Championship tourney at Vineland. Their exciting 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 win over Egg Harbor Township’s tandem of Angelina Lee and Gabrielle Guimapang was one for the ages.
After Graham and Bowman cruised to an easy win in the first set, Lee and Guimapang came back with an equally easy victory in the second to tie the match and force a deciding third set. That’s when the friendship and communication became a factor and paid off big time for Graham and Bowman.
“It was kind of funny,” Bowman said. “I don’t want to say we played sloppy, but after that first set, (EHT) really showed some energy and made it a match.”
Instead of panicking, pointing fingers or losing composure, Graham and Bowman took a walk.
“We had a 10-minute break after the second set and we walked away from the court and talked it over,” Brynn explained. “We came back and played the way we knew we can play.”
DiMatteo also offered a piece of valuable coaching advice. “I reminded the girls they had beaten them before and they could do it again,” she said. “I told them to keep focusing on the point they were in at the time and not to think about winning or losing.”
The third set proved to be a hard-fought battle of teams that knew each other well.
“It wasn’t just that the set was close, every point seemed to be long,” said DiMatteo, who was on the edge of her seat along with the OC fans.
Graham and Bowman proceeded to out-grind Lee and Guimapang, achieving the ultimate goal.
“When I started playing with Brynn when she was a freshman and I was a sophomore, I couldn’t have dreamed it would end with us winning the CAL championship,” Graham said.
But their growth as players and students of the game progressed through their OC career from unbeatable jayvees, then Cape Atlantic semi-finalists in 2017 and finishing on the top step of the podium this year.
“They are a phenomenal team,” DiMatteo said. “Rosalie is one of our captains and she wears it well. She provides leadership and always works hard. She really likes playing doubles, and was really excited this year to be playing again with Brynn. She understands the game and how to place the ball. She’s a great doubles partner to Brynn and a great girl to coach.”
As for Brynn, “She is a great natural athlete, a three-sport athlete and also one of the best surfers on the Coast,” DiMatteo said. “At times she is effortless out there, but it’s a lot of fun as a coach to see her growth.”
“We have good chemistry,” Brynn said. “We can communicate without speaking. This championship was big because we knew it was the last match we would ever play together. And it was great to go out with the CAL title, to have that memory.”
Tennis and championships are not the only thing the girls share. They live in the same Ocean City neighborhood just two blocks from each other, and both are excellent students. Both are planning for careers in health care. Rosalie is looking into nursing and Brynn is currently leaning toward physical therapy. They also hang out together off the court.
“We were always friendly, but not that close until we began playing tennis,” said Brynn. “Once we became doubles partners, we became inseparable.”
The pair enjoy going out to breakfast together and just hanging out. Next year will seem different with Rosalie graduated and Brynn heading into her senior year. Rosalie has already been accepted at Stockton University and Seton Hall, and is waiting on decisions from Towson and Rutgers universities. She said she will concentrate on her studies and play tennis only at the intramural or club level.
Brynn is excited for her last year of high school tennis, and doubts it will be with a new doubles partner.
“I think I will be trying to earn a spot playing singles,” she said. “After three years with Rosalie, it would be hard (to break in a new partner). She will be truly missed.”
Graham’s take: “Brynn is going to work hard and be a great singles player,” said Rosalie. “Her athleticism and ability to play so well at the net will serve her well in the singles game.”
In future years, fans of the program will look back on the girls as one of the great tandems in school history – as well as the very definition of champions and friends.