St. Joseph women’s tennis passes Warsaw to reach state quarters
CULVER – The best way to deal with grief, said Bill Mountford, is often to return to your comfort zone as quickly as possible.
For the longtime women’s tennis coach at St. Joseph’s High School, that meant returning to the practice court after learning Friday morning that her father, Don, had died at age 90 following a brief sickness.
On a sunny Saturday morning, that meant making the two-hour round trip to Culver Academy on the team bus and watching his fifth-ranked Indians (17-1-1) make quick work of Warsaw in a 5-0 rout at Semistate. Next up is a June 3 showdown with second-seeded Jasper in the state quarterfinals at Carmel High School.
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“My dad passed away, and obviously it was difficult,” Mountford said. “I was really happy to be back on the pitch. That’s where I’m the happiest, that’s for sure.
After winning the program’s sixth regional title in seven tries this week at La Porte, the Indians reunited with their coach after Mountford spent several days at his home in Kinnelon, NJ, with his parents.
Sophomore Molly Bellia, the reigning No. 1 state singles champion, called it “emotional news” when Mountford informed her players of the loss of her father on Friday. The St. Joseph girls were determined to make things go as stress-free as possible for their coach on Saturday.
“We just want to be there to support him,” Bellia said after a 6-1, 6-1 win over Warsaw rookie Addie Lind. “I would say we just tried to act normal, play normal, be really spirited – all the things we normally would do.”
While rival and defending state champion Carmel quickly dispatched Crown Point to Culver’s backcourts, losing a total of 15 games in their 5-0 blitz, St. Joseph needed just 56 minutes to clinch a return to the final weekend of the season.
St. Joseph’s two doubles teams – sisters Ashi and Anni Amalnathan as well as Gracie Velasco and Dani Graham – lost a total of two matches sweeping their matches. The Velasco-Graham team sailed in just 33 minutes.
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Junior Lily Mayfield battled to a 7-5, 6-2 win in singles No. 3, and another 55 minutes were spent as a team on No. 2 Maggie Nguyen as she earned a three-way victory sets to complete the shutout.
Mountford was right there with his players, clipboards clutched behind his back, as they chanted and applauded the junior. He reminded them as the match dragged on that it was “a beautiful day” and projected his usual calm demeanor.
“A sense of humor always relaxes me on the pitch,” Bellia said. “Even when he smiles at me, it relaxes me.”
A sense of gratitude emerged as Mountford later reflected on what has been a difficult week for his family.
“My dad was 90,” Mountford said. “He lived a good long life. I was able to be with him for his 90th birthday (recently in Florida) and I was able to be with him just before he died. I’m glad I could do that. »
Don Mountford worked for approximately 35 years in the garment industry in New York. He was a buyer for JCPenney and later took a stake in a clothing manufacturer.
“He had a good creative eye,” his son recalls, “and he had a good eye for what would sell.”
Bill Mountford’s love for tennis comes from his mother, Lura, who worked as a linesman at 35 US Opens. Now 89, she fired him this week with orders to ‘just go beat Carmel’, even though her son explained there were a few games left to win first.
“My dad cared, but he wasn’t the one who got me into tennis,” said Bill, who was captain of the Annapolis team in the early 1980s. He wasn’t the tennis guy, but he was very proud of my tennis and all the accomplishments I could have had.
Mountford led the St. Joseph girls to the state title in 2010, his second season as a coach, but they lost in the state tournament the following year in front of his parents. This would be Don Mountford’s last trip to see his son’s team play.
“He was like, ‘We’re unlucky. As soon as we got there, you lost,’ Bill Mountford said of his dad. “I didn’t say that, but it’s a bit like that my father was.”
That same dry sense of humor remained until the last breath of the family patriarch.
“My father was not a spiritual man,” Bill Mountford said. “When he was near the end in the hospital, they said, ‘Do you want to bring in a priest or a pastor?’ I said no.”
He smiled as he remembered one of his father’s favorite one-liners.
“The last time I was in a church, I got married,” Don Mountford liked to say. “I won’t let that happen again.”
Writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com