For the past two seasons, the Stone Ridge girls' tennis team has had a chance to win the Independent School League's AA division championship banner but has seen it slip away each time. Last week, the Gators took a big step in reversing that trend, topping defending champion Holton-Arms 4-3, their first victory over the Panthers in five years.

Stone Ridge (9-0, 4-0) could move closer to clinching a banner with a victory over unbeaten Madeira (9-1, 2-0) tomorrow. Madeira also must play Holton-Arms on Oct. 21. The players at Stone Ridge, which finished second to Holton-Arms for the past two seasons, know they are in control in the ISL AA.

"We put a lot of hard work into this," senior Caroline Huffstetler, whose 10-6 victory in No. 3 singles over elementary school classmate Grace Goldstein secured the win over Holton-Arms on Oct. 6. "A week before the match, all the seniors went on retreat for Thursday and Friday. We thought a lack of practice might hurt us. I really think it's our team unity that lifted us this time."

Trailing 6-4, Huffstetler used the encouragement of teammates to take six consecutive games to win the match. No. 1 singles player Agnes Sibilski, a junior who is fourth in the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association's 18-and-under rankings, cruised to a 10-2 victory over Neena Passi. The Gators' No. 1 doubles team of Laura Mickum and Courtney McGlynn defeated Sammy Leibovitz and Caroline Goldstein, 10-5, while Cassie Owens and Katie Jones captured No. 3 singles with a 10-6 win Katherine Ness and Carter Ellerman.

"We know each other so well," Huffstetler said. "We know the little things to say to push each other."

Huffstetler said that the close-knit nature of the team was fostered in part by what she calls an "online pump-up chat." The players create a chat room the night before every match to talk about the upcoming competition and events in their daily lives.

Stone Ridge's Caroline Huffstetler trailed 6-4 before taking the next six games to secure the win against Holton-Arms.