WHITEMARSH — When asked what she wants to study in college, Cristina Kaiser responded tersely: tennis. She's a state champion and is currently ranked number one in the state. During the season while quietly going about her work on the court, the real test lies ahead.
Winning in straight sets 6-0, 6-3 over Upper Dublin's Alyssa Bregman, Kaiser made short work of a strong opponent.
The two-time defending District 1 AAA champion and two-time PIAA Class AAA finalist has already experienced tremendous success in career. One would think she'd just roll through the season with eyes on districts and beyond, but no.
She's all business.
"I don't really think about being a state champ,' Kaiser said. "I just take every match seriously and try my best.'
In her two games, when she wasn't winning volleys, ripping crosscourt backhands or teasing her opponent with slices, Kaiser was working on her less-used returns. She played sharply and beat her opponent on footwork alone; her backhand shots — the envy of any hitter in the batter's box — were just icing on the cake.
"I think she has an intense drive to be the best,' said PW tennis coach Al Collins Jr. "She's rises to the occasion as the competition challenges her.'
On missed opportunities, her face at times read the frustration of hitting into the net, she, however, recovered and adjusted. Never taking anything off of her shot, she just hit it better.
"I think she has a good control over her emotions,' Collins said. "She can adjust if she's making errors and turn those errors into a better performance.'
"When I get frustrated, I try to put that aside and work on that shot,' Kaiser said. "Right now I'm just trying to be consistent and get every shot over.'
It all seems to be nothing more than practice for Kaiser right now. The way she cruises through games and matches is evident of her style of play: unrelenting.
Early into the second match, she worked her opponent into a corner with back-to-back slices before ripping a cruel cross-court winner that stopped Bregman in her tracks. The two have had faced off a number of times through the years, and while Kaiser can now tout the state championship hardware, she isn't obliged to take her familiar foe lightly.
"She's definitely improved,' Kaiser said after dropping three games in the second set to Bregman. "Next time I play I have to be on my feet more.'
Second in line to Bregman on the singles roster of Upper Dublin's tennis team is a player fresh to the varsity level, but not fresh to the sport.
Freshman Schuyler LaBarge fell in her two matches on Thursday, but she already looks to be the heir-apparent to number one spot as she continues to grow and improve.
"I've been playing since I was seven,' LaBarge said. "My mom and my whole family plays, and I just really liked it from the beginning.'
LaBarge has experience in tournament play and is looking forward to the Cardinal's matchup next week.
"We play our rivals next week, Wissahickon,' LaBarge said. "The girl I'm playing is really good.'
Is she nervous? No. Just aiming to warm up, hydrate and play her game.