Anne Sullivan has seen a good amount of success in her four years as head coach of the Exeter-West Greenwich girls tennis team.
Playing in Division III, the Scarlet Knights have never finished lower than third or won less than eight matches while under her care, twice winning double digit matches and once bringing home a division title.
This season will be a little different for Sullivan, however. Last season marked the end of the high school careers of the class she came in with, bringing on a new collection of players to lead this year’s Knights.
This season it will be a new, younger team that is smaller in numbers and in the process of rebuilding itself.
“I would say it’s a rebuilding year,” Sullivan says. “This is my fifth year coaching the girls high school team, so anyone I had the first year I was there was gone at the end of last year. Granted, I have repeat players, but that first group is now all gone.”
Though they are in rebuilding mode, the Scarlet Knights will be returning a seasoned, veteran presence at the top of both their singles and double ladder. Senior Julia VanGyzen and junior Sarah Rumsey will be stepping up from the No. 2 and 3 spots they played in last year to take over at No. 1 and No. 2 singles. Emilie Simonini and Eleni Giannopoulos, who performed well playing at No. 2 doubles as juniors, will be up as the No. 1 team this fall.
The rest of the lineup, however, is comprised with players who are either new to the team or playing in completely new roles than they were in last season. Only Mackenzie Walsh, who will be playing at No. 3 singles, has some experience with her new spot, having split time last season playing both doubles and singles.
The turnover in the squad and smaller roster size has brought with it a change that could be of great benefit to the Knights as they rebuild the team though.
The limited court space at Exeter-West Greenwich made it difficulties in previous years for Sullivan to devote too much of practice to working with her players individually, something she will have the opportunity to do much more of this fall.
“Because I only have four courts, when I had a lot of players it was tough to work with them individually,” Sullivan says. “This year I’m going to be able to see a lot more of that.
“…As you always do with this type of team, you have a wide variety of players and levels. So, with some people you’re working on strokes and other people you’re working on the strategy of the game and improving their strategy. Really, it varies.”
Despite facing the hardships of the rebuilding process, the Scarlet Knights are still taking a positive approach to the 2013 season.
“I think we’ll be relatively competitive,” Sullivan says. “They’re very enthusiastic and they’re a great group of girls.
“My girls are so enthusiastic and that plays a big part in it. It really does. They all get along.”
The young team will be tested early as the regular season gets underway this week, playing nearly half their matches – five of 12 – over the season’s first 10 days. With the rain earlier in the week, Tuesday’s season opener against Scituate was pushed back to Wednesday afternoon (results unavailable at time of press).
The Knights will then be right back in action to close out the week with a 3:30 p.m. match Thursday at home against Cranston East.
The season’s initial stretch concludes next week with road matches Tuesday and Friday against Warwick Vets and Pilgrim, respectively, and a home match Wednesday against 2012 Division III runner-up Coventry. All three matches will be at 3:30 p.m.