Much like the Mount St. Charles hockey teams of the 1980s and ’90s, South Kingstown boys tennis has become synonymous with winning in the state of Rhode Island.
With 14-straight state titles, the longest such streak by any public school in the state in any sport, this millennium has belonged to Rebel tennis.
For years hockey players around the state asked themselves every October if this was going to be the year the Mount fell? The Rhode Island tennis community may now be doing the same thing.
With only a handful of losses during their 14-year reign, failing to take home the victory is something South Kingston does not take lightly and it had been almost two years since they last left the court without a victory.
That streak came to an end on Tuesday evening, however, when SK fell, 4-3, to the underdog East Greenwich, playing at the Division I level for the first time this season.
“We knew they would be a quality team based on some of the guys that were back,” SK coach Andy Carr said. “We’re young right now and we don’t have a ton of experience.
“That’s not a great combination, especially in the beginning of the year. We’ll get better, but we have some things we definitely need to work on.”
The Rebels lost five of the team’s top six players following last season’s championship, meaning Carr was going to have many new faces on this year’s roster.
Given his program’s long-standing tradition of success, the coach does not plan on letting this turnover be any sort of excuse to temper his expectations for this season.
“We always say it’s our state championship until it’s taken away,” said Carr. “We got guys that can get it done, it’s just going to be real tight.
“There are more teams in the mix this year than in the past 15 years. Usually it’s a two, three horse race, now there’s five or six teams.”
One of those players Carr will need to shoulder the load from the loss of his all-state talent is junior Derrick Yang.
After playing in the No. 4 singles spot last year, Yang has taken over the top of the ladder and will anchor a lineup that is playing with a pair of freshman in the top four spots.
“I think he’s ready for the challenge,” said the SK coach of his captain’s jump to the top. “Derrick’s improved since last year. I’m pleased with how far he’s come in 12 months. It will be a challenge, but he’s ready for it.”
Though he was talented enough to land a top spot on the team as a freshman, Yang is known as much for his demeanor on the court as his physical talents when judging his value to the team.
“He’s hard worker,” said Carr. “Derrick will put the time in and he’s very coachable. He’s the captain as a junior, which is very rare, so that tells a lot about him if I’m going to pick him as one of the captains as an underclassman.”
For all his talents on and off the court, however, Yang cannot do it alone and the remaining members of the squad will also need to play up to the level that is customary of South Kingstown tennis, particularly at singles.
“We have four seniors in doubles,” said Carr of his his new lineup, “so we should be solid in the doubles area. We have decent depth [in doubles], but we need to raise the bar in the front end.”
Despite the early wins, 6-1 and 5-2, in the team’s first two matches, Carr was using the East Greenwich loss as motivation for his team as early as practice the following afternoon.
“It’s motivation,” said the Rebel coach after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve only played three matches, but they have to play with all the things we’ve talked about.
“There are a lot of things I’m looking for – intensity, concentration – and the expectations are high.”
Carr will lean upon his long-standing coaching philosophy that centers around structure and his players being disciplined on the court.
South’s coach is hoping this extra focus he demands from his players will help the young team develop at a faster rate, so they will be playing as expected come season’s end.
“I’m hoping we can fast forward them because of the expectations and the discipline that we have here,” said Carr. “It’s not always easy. It’s a challenge to be on this team and the expectations are very high, but it’s rewarding if you put that type of effort in.
“I’m hoping through the course of the next six or seven weeks we can pop up a percentage on every single match, singles through doubles.
“...With the match experience and what we go over – hundreds of times –it’ll soak in and we’ll be better off at the end of May than the beginning of April.”
The juggernaut of Rhode Island Division I tennis may have slipped and shown they are not the unstoppable force the Interscholastic League has become accustomed to the past 14 years with their youth and their first loss since 2011.
Carr has even said the team is taking it slow at this point, “one day at a time,” but South Kingstown boys tennis still plans to make their presence well known in 2013 and continue their storied tradition.