It’s not all that uncommon at St. Joseph’s College Brooklyn, Clinton Hill, for former CHSAA rivals to join together as Bears teammates.
However, two of the school’s women’s tennis players have taken it a step further.
Senior Denise Trerotola and junior Valentina Velez Valencia make up the Bears pairing in first doubles. Trerotola played her high school tennis at St. Saviour H.S., Park Slope, while Velez Valencia was a member of the Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst, tennis squad.
A member of St. Athanasius, Bensonhurst, Trerotola attended St. Ephrem’s Elementary School, Dyker Heights. Though she grew up just five minutes from Bishop Kearney, her childhood tennis coach was the head coach at St. Saviour at the time and convinced her to join the Pandas.
She played four years of varsity tennis as a singles player to go along with four years of basketball and four years of softball. In addition to playing first doubles at St. Joe’s, Trerotola stars in first singles for the Bears.
Through her first three seasons, she is the program’s all-time singles wins leader. She’s also a two-time All-Skyline Conference First Team selection, making her the only Bear student-athlete to accomplish that feat since the school joined the conference in 2015.
Velez Valencia attends Resurrection, Gerritsen Beach. She went to Good Shepherd Elementary School, Marine Park, before heading to Bishop Kearney.
She joined the school’s band as a freshman but soon decided she instead wanted to play tennis. She spent her next three years of high school on the Tigers varsity team and now plays doubles as well as second or third singles at St. Joe’s.
Now doubles partners in college, the duo never actually faced off against each other in high school when their teams competed. They knew each other from their time playing for the CityParks Foundation tennis league but never had a head-to-head match.
Though they’re well aware of the high school rivalry between St. Saviour and Bishop Kearney, they’ve actually used their past experiences as more of a unifying factor on the tennis court.
“I know that there’s a rivalry there, but when I look at Valentina, I don’t really think about the rivalry,” Trerotola said. “She’s my doubles partner, and we’re friends off the court.”
“It’s funny that we were rivals in high school, but I think coming into college, we realized that high school is in our past,” Velez Valencia said. “I think that because we went to all-girls schools that were rivals, we got even closer in college.”
After finishing 2-3 as doubles partners last year, the pair is off to hot start this season. They have learned each other’s main strengths on the court and are using those to their advantage.
“I think we communicate really well,” Trerotola said. “She’s (Velez Valencia) such a strong player, and I just want her to be confident in that.”
“We both admire each other’s strengths, and we play off of that,” Velez Valencia said.
As the season progresses, Trerotola and Velez Valencia are focused on improving together as a doubles pair. They also need to give enough attention to their singles matches, but playing together more often as doubles partners in practice is key to their future success.
While their high schools may be rivals, these Bears have united not only through tennis but also in their gratitude to St. Joe’s for giving them the opportunity to continue their athletic careers in college.
“In my gradating class, I only know three people who went on to play college sports, so it’s not really a common thing,” Trerotola said. “That’s one of the main reasons I chose St. Joe’s because I could play tennis and still focus on my schoolwork.”
“I’m very grateful because in college, not a lot of people go into sports because of how much academic responsibilities there are,” Velez Valencia said. “I think the fact that we have an opportunity to play a sport and be able to focus on our academics is great.”
Forget about Pandas vs. Tigers. When Trerotola and Velez Valencia are together on the tennis court, it’s all about the Bears.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.