It was a struggle last fall for the South Kingstown girls tennis team as the Rebels made their return to Division I.
After two successful campaigns in Division II in 2010 and 2011 – where they posted a combined 20-8 regular season record – wins were hard to come by last season as the Rebels finished near the bottom of the standings.
As the team prepares to open their 2013 schedule, while they may face their share of challenges, it is shaping up to be a much-improved Rebels squad this fall.
“I think we’re going to have at least two wins again this year and I think all our loses are going to be closer,” says South coach Mary Lou Morissette. “The kids are coming in a bit more prepared than they were before, so I think we’re going to have a decent season in Division I, which is really, really tough.
“They have a good mindset. A better mindset because they know what Division I is like, they know it’s really, really tough, so they will not be as nervous. They just have to go right out there and see if some of the strategy works. We may surprise a few people.”
If the Rebels are going to see improved success in 2013, they will do so relying on a returning veteran core that grew along with the hardships the team faced last fall.
“The greatest strength is our veterans,” Morissette says. “They know the outlook and they’re telling the kids the way it is.
“…It’s life, you have to work around some tough things and we’re just going to try and figure out a way and enjoy what we do. They’re a good group.”
The Rebels’ ladder will start strong with senior Alexa Pagliaro and junior Samantha Rendine returning to the No. 1 and 2 singles spots in which they played last fall. Natalie Meyer will follow playing in the No. 3 hole. Though new to the team, the senior has impressed throughout the preseason.
“She’s a grinder,” Morissette says. “Out there, she’s a bulldog. Some people go out there and try to make plays, she goes out there to try and find a way to win. She’s new to the game, as far as the singles go, they have a lot of belief in her.”
After seeing time there last season, as well as playing some doubles, Annie Madden will start the season at No. 4 singles, while Jacqueline Burns, a JV-varsity crossover last year, and freshman Kathryn Jarbeau currently rank fifth and sixth on the depth chart and figure to challenge to break into the starting singles lineup throughout the season.
While their top six singles spots are locked in, the doubles teams are going to be a work in progress for South this season as Morissette is still working with her roster to try and find the right combination of players to anchor the backend of her lineup.
“Doubles we’re still mixing and matching,” she says. “Anyone could come up there and play really, really well. We have a lot of singles players and they’re just learning to play the doubles. That’s what gives us our uncertainty.
“We’re just going to keep moving people around. Let’s say if the doubles lose, combinations don’t work, we’re just going to throw them all back in the pot and start it again.”
Though Morissette has yet to settle on her pairings, to start the season doubles will consist of some combination of Burns, Jarbeau, Meghan Blessing, Mary Matthews, Zoe Pagliaro, Caitlin McGurl and Kendall Harrison.
The Rebels kick off their regular season this week with a pair of road matches. Tuesday they were scheduled to open the year with a match against a similarly rebuilding Prout team (results unavailable at press time). Friday they will venture a little further with a 3:30 p.m. match at East Greenwich.
South will open their home schedule Monday, September 9, with a 3:45 p.m. match against defending state champion LaSalle.