Not just practice, but perfect practice. Not just a culture, but a culture that strives for excellence. These are the foundations of an athletic program with a long-standing tradition of success.
They are also the ideals that have transformed the East Greenwich High School girls tennis team into one of the best teams in the state in recent years.
“I just think it’s you create a culture of no nonsense and you come up here and you play to win and you demand perfection from yourselves,” said Avengers coach Marc Brocato. “I abhor sloppy practices. I don’t have them out here hours on end, but when they are out there, I want them to do things the right way. Every time you step foot on the court, you should be striving to make yourself better as a tennis player and that’s what we’re hoping to do.
“I think it’s just you try to motivate them to want to do well, so you create a culture where there’s sort of zero tolerance for laziness and just laissez faire type of play and there’s zero tolerance for not performing to your best.”
Though they have not yet been the last team standing at the end of the season, there has not been much else in terms of success that has eluded Avenger tennis in recent seasons. The team posted near perfect records in 2010 and 2011 while playing in Division II, dropping only one match in each season. The Avengers took a step up to Division I in 2012 and kept on rolling, posting a 11-1 record in Division I Met A before falling in the semifinals to Mount St. Charles.
Three years and just four losses for East Greenwich.
Though it has not come with a championship, it is an unprecedented level of success for any program. And despite losing half of their starting lineup from 2012, it is a level of success the Avengers have full intentions of continuing this fall.
“The team has the makings of being something pretty special,” Brocato said. “We lost five players off of last year’s team, but we have such a good JV program here that we tend not to miss a beat.
“…We always lose half our team. It just seems to be that way, but we work extensively with our doubles, Rob Petrucci does a great job on the JV level getting these kids ready with our doubles so that by the time they come up here, there’s really an expectation of aggressiveness and exactness and precision when they play. We expect a lot out of them and they expect a lot out of themselves, so it’s really an atmosphere you create of high expectations that help things out a lot.”
As it has the past few seasons, East’s success will start at the top with Aleksandra Drljaca. The senior returns to anchor the top of the Avengers’ singles ladder after going unbeaten in individual matches in 2012 en route to becoming the first in program history to win the state’s individual championship. Now a captain, Drljaca’s importance to the team will go beyond just the results she produces on her own court.
“She’s certainly a nice person to throw out there,” said Brocato. “Now that she’s our captain, not only is she leading by ability, but she’s leading by example. She’s really stepped it up in terms of her leadership and how she’s running the team along with our other captains, Emma Falkenberry and Heather Shen.”
Following closely behind Drljaca to start the season is freshman Peri Sheinin, a player Brocato feels might even put pressure on the three-time All-State selection for the Avengers’ top spot.
“She’s just a young whipper-snapper,” Brocato said. “She’s a great, great player and she just pounds the ball. She’s not a real big kid, but I like to say she’s a pitbull in a beagle’s body. She’s a really fiery player and exceptional in terms of her skills. She’s going to be right at the top of our ladder. Looks like she’s going to be at No. 2 maybe to start the season and maybe even fighting Aleksandra throughout the season for a top spot.”
The ladder itself is still taking shape for the Avengers in the young season, but the top four spots will most likely be filled out with some combination of Drljaca, Sheinin, Shen and Catherine Karbasiafshar, who was an All-State doubles player for East Greenwich last fall.
Falkenberry, Karbasiafshar’s former doubles partner, will return to the top doubles team and be paired with Eleanor Fulghum. Junior Sam Land will also be returning to East’s doubles lineup, playing on the No. 2 team with Veronica Comito, who spent last season playing on JV. Romina Garakani and Brooke Fennell, who also spent 2012 on JV, will round out the starting lineup at No. 3 doubles.
Even in the face of what they lost, the Avengers have merely reloaded on talent. As they have yet to bring home a state title during their recent run, East knows they must earn their success by doing far more than just showing up at their matches.
“We’re loaded with some talent, but talent alone doesn’t win,” Brocato said. “We have to work on our teamwork and we have to look to get better every single day and demand perfection from ourselves. Don’t settle for anything. Really demand a lot from yourselves, no matter how good you think you are.”
East’s quest for the elusive team title was set to begin on Wednesday when the team traveled to Bay View for their season opening match. (Results unavailable at time of press.) They will round out their first week of matches with their home opener on Friday afternoon, welcoming in South Kingstown High School for a 3:30 p.m. match.