Former East Longmeadow Boys Tennis Coach is New HHS Girls Tennis Coach

Christopher Tremblay, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
May, 2019
Article Body: 

Art Riffo had been coaching the East Longmeadow boy’s tennis team for the past eight years until his retirement. When it came time to stop working he decided to move closer to his wife’s job in Hopkinton. When that happened the Spartan coach figured his teaching days on the court were over, but little did he know there was an opening not too far away.
“I really believed that I was done coaching at this point,” he said. “Then I got this email that Hopedale was looking for a girl’s coach, so I sent a letter of interest and next thing you know I was getting a call from Stephanie Ridolfi (the Hopedale Athletic Director).”
As the East Longmeadow coach the team made its way into the Division 1 West Tournament only to lose in the finals in 2017 and the Semi Finals in 2016. Riffo now takes over a team that has gone an incredible 57-8 over the last four years during the regular season; captured four straight Division 3 Central Championships and fell in the State Semi Finals once and three times in the State Championship match.
Having coached boys in Western Massachusetts, Riffo has now inherited a solid group of girl’s tennis players.
“Coaching girls is a huge difference than coaching boys, there are no egos,” Riffo said. “Unlike the boys, girls are much more cooperative, help and support one another and really seem to enjoy one another’s company as well as the game itself.”
Riffo has been playing tennis for over 30 years but had to slow down due to a shoulder and bicep injuries.
“Most of my tennis was recreational and I still love the game, I just can’t play as much,” the new Hopedale Coach said. “I competed on a club level where I won the Springfield Forest Park Clay Court Tournament.”
Having only been in the area with his wife for about six months now the new Hopedale coach is solely counting on the girls of his team to help him get use to the local tennis rivalries during the early stages of the season.
“It’s been really tough as I know nothing about this league (Dual Valley) and have been mainly relying on the team to tell me what they remember about the teams and their players from last year,” Riffo said. “At this point I don’t know how strong the league is. I only know that Hopedale only lost once last season and we’ve already lost once (4-1 to Wachusett in a non-league match) already.”
Meeting the team for the first time was a heartwarming experience for Riffo.
“When I first meet with the girls they made me feel welcomed and happy to have me as their new coach,” he said. “They seem hungry for knowledge and I have the tools they need to guide them to the next level and play better.”
In addition to getting to teach girls improve their tennis Riffo loves the fact that Hopedale has the ability to use girls from seventh and eighth grade as well as those on the high school level. I sees it as a chance to develop these younger athletes over a longer period of time.
Looking to ease the new coach into all that is the Dual Valley League will be his number one singles player senior Aimee Figgins. Riffo loves everything about Figgins thus far from her backhand to her forehand, to her serve and personality. He is hoping that Figgins gives the team everything she has in the past. Last year she only lost one match.
In addition to Figgins Hopedale will have freshman Ava LaBrador holding down the second singles position and junior Maddie LaPrade at third singles. LaPrade played doubles for the Blue raiders last year, but Riffo found that she is the next strongest singles player after Figgins and Labrador.
“Ava is a talented individual with a good desire to learn. She has the basics, just needs to develop her techniques,” the Coach said. “Maddie is not only consistent, but a backboard. Everything that comes to her goes back. She just needs to become more aggressive.”
Playing first doubles for Hopedale will be senior Mikayla Evans and sophomore Katelyn Brunt. The duo plays not only plays well together but their communications skills are consistent. Sophomores Sonya DeRando and Katherine Mooney will hold down the fort at second doubles and they too have shown the new coach a consistency in their serves and strokes.
As Riffo gets use to what his team can bring to the table match in and match out he is also trying to figure out the Dual Valley League and the Division 3 Central teams.
“Are we that good or is the rest of the league not as strong? This is something that I need to find out,” Riffo said. “By the middle of each set I have been able to figure out the opposing player’s strengths and weaknesses. I can then tell my girls what they to do to be successful.”
Coming into his first season as the Hopedale Head girls tennis coach Riffo is looking for his new team to be just as good as they have been during the last year, while developing their skills. He is thrilled to take over the Blue Raider program and is excited about the younger girls on the team having the potential to develope into strong tennis players.
This spring may be a challenge for the new coach, but having a talented group of players will make it easier on him. Next year Riffo will have a year under his belt in the area and the program will be fully his.