Oakcrest High School senior Connie Capone isn’t your typical tennis player.

The 18-year-old Mays Landing resident chooses to play a defensive-style game that wears down her opponents.

After a 12-7 start to the season, Capone used that style to win 13 straight matches and the Cape-Atlantic League individual singles title 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 over Egg Harbor Township sophomore Katie Garthaus (24-5).

Capone is The Press Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

“At the time, I didn’t see it as a winning streak. I just saw it as taking each match one step at a time and one point at a time. And really, every time I won a really tough match, my motivation and excitement just kept building,” Capone said in a phone interview on Nov. 29. “It was a complete turnaround, which started to bring on the wins, and the climax was the CAL tournament when everything came down to that one moment. I had so much excitement and will to win. I can credit it to my progress.”

“She’s steady,” Oakcrest coach Tony Ponzetti said. “She’s not flashy. She doesn’t have all the shots that some of the others players display with power, but she is one of the toughest mental players I’ve ever had the opportunity to be around. She will hang in there, she’ll be a grinder and she’ll stay in a match for as long as it has to be.”

Capone earned a career season-high 25 victories and finished with a 72-30-1 overall record. As a sophomore she was a Press honorable-mention selection and landed on the second team as a junior.

Her quest for winning the CAL individual singles title began September 2011 in the CAL semifinals.

As a junior she found herself amongst two former Press First-Team All-Stars, Millville’s Amanda Hickman and Vineland’s Blake Pescatore, and the three-time Press Player of the Year and three-time CAL singles champion graduate Adrienne Kaye of Holy Spirit. Kaye knocked Capone out of the tournament.

“Every year I’ve progressed further into the tournament, and last year I was the only junior in the final four,” Capone said. “That’s when I said to myself that I could do this. That’s when the goal started. When I had the potential to.”

Capone excelled individually, but she also elevated her team to a level it hasn’t seen in several years. The Falcons posted a 16-10 record, its first winning season in at least 12 years. Oakcrest also reached the South Jersey Group III semifinals before falling to perennial power and eventual champion Moorestown.

“Just winning (player of the year) was the most incredible feeling, because it is bringing the spotlight to a school that really never had gotten it in the sport (of tennis). Yeah, we’re not a tennis school, but I think that what I’ve brought to my team is inspiration to the younger girls to believe they can do the same thing,” Capone said.

Twenty-one of Capone’s 25 wins came in straight sets. But her most important wins were in three sets. With two consecutive wins under her belt, her turnaround truly began Oct. 17 when she defeated Garthaus 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in a dual match with EHT. Her record improved to 15-7 at the time.

She then took a four-match win streak into a match at Ocean City on Oct. 19. Ponzetti said that the match was so close, it was moved from Ocean City’s grass courts to a hard court close by due to lighting issues. Capone beat Ocean City senior Gabby DuBruille 1-6, 7-6(7-5), 6-2.

“I think (Capone’s accomplishments) gave the girls on the team something to be really proud of,” Ponzetti said. “A lot of them were there on the days of the tournament. It certainly gave our returning players for next year something to think about in the off-season, including the opportunity to get back to the playoffs and make the semis, something we’ve never done before until this year in my ten years with the program. It pushed the envelope for Oakcrest.”

Team of the Year

Egg Harbor Township, the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference champion, worked toward short- and long-term goals during the 2012 season. The Eagles, ranked 10th in the final Press of Elite 11 tennis standings, captured their first conference title since 1999 and reached the South Jersey Group IV semifinals before falling to No. 7 Cherry Hill East 3-2.

With only two seniors graduating, 10th-year coach Kelly Karrer believes this what just the start for more to come.

Press First-Team All-Star and CAL Individual Tournament finalist sophomore Katie Garthaus went 24-5 at first singles, while honorable mention selection junior Vida Torres was 19-4 at second singles. Senior Sophie Fernandez was 20-4 at third singles and the first doubles team of juniors Maria Ibarra and Christine Pao was 18-6 and earned a second team nod.

EHT also displayed depth. Juniors Zahara James and Mona Sarhan were 11-6 at second doubles, while Zarhan and senior Caroline Tesone were 4-1 when playing together at second doubles.

“This is the best team that I’ve ever been a part of and this is a great accomplishment for our team,” Karrer said in a phone interview Nov. 29. “I give all of the credit to the girls. They were the ones that worked hard in the offseason and became determined to be better than last year. They definitely proved that.”

“This builds our confidence for next year and keeps them determined to keep their goals high to be returning conference champions or in the South Jersey Group IV final.”

Contact Kelly Ashe: