NORTH KINGSTOWN – The North Kingstown girl tennis team has seen mixed results in recent years.
From 2008-2010, the Skippers combined for just eight wins, finishing last in their division in two of those three seasons.
In 2011, behind state individual champion Hannah Zangari, the team went 9-4, finishing second in Division I-South. Last year, they took a step back, posting a 5-7 record to finish fifth in the newly restructured Division I Met-A.
While Skippers coach Tim O’Neill can get leery putting expectations on a young season, with a strong returning core that has depth after losing only three players from last season’s starting lineup and a solid, 2-1 start to their campaign, things are looking good so far for North Kingstown tennis.
“It’s funny, having been around this for a little while, expectations are kind of a Catch-22,” said North’s coach following Monday’s 5-2 loss to East Greenwich. “Knowing what you can do is nice, but if expectations are out of whack, it’s easy to be disappointed. It’s easy to shoot too high, too low. We try to kind of go from match to match.
“We had a good first week, it was a little start and stop. We knew [Monday’s match] was a tough one. As competitive as it was and the way it turned out, a win would have been great, but a lot of high points in this match.”
North’s ladder starts with Mary Morabit returning to the No. 1 singles spot. Though the senior has yet to lockdown an individual win in 2013, O’Neill knows he still has a good start to his lineup.
“Mary at No. 1 is up to her earlobes in tennis and you know she’s going to bring everything she’s got every day,” O’Neill said. “She’s also, unfortunately, up against all the strongest players in Division I. Even on a day when she takes a loss, we can take a lot of good stuff away from it. She’s been in that role before.”
Junior Taylor Masi, who is also returning to the singles lineup, joins Morabit, starting the season at No. 2 singles. Freshman Grace Zangari is the new singles addition playing at No. 3, while Maria Bolibruch rounds things out at No. 4.
After splitting time last fall between singles and doubles, the senior has stepped up her game so far this fall, a fact on display Monday as she took home North’s only singles point following a 6-4, 7-6 (13-11) battle with EG’s Catherine Karbasiafshar.
“Maria’s sort of finding a gear,” O’Neil said. “Today was huge for her. She just needed to buckle down and outlast. She really just trusted some of her stuff today and did a great job with that.”
With a strong, experienced singles lineup, North’s doubles teams will get a lot of focus from their coach early in the season.
“Aside from match accomplishments, the big deal is hammering out doubles teams that are sound,” O’Neill said. “Just finding the chemistry. It’s not just a matter of taking your No. 5 and 6 player and saying, ‘You’re a doubles team.’
“…You need [chemistry]. That’s where a lot of the magic comes from. You take a couple of misfits, put them together and you might strike gold.”
Thus far, the Skippers have done a good job finding the right combinations for their doubles, which was the stronger unit Monday against East Greenwich.
Lucia Bolibruch and Grace Callahan took home North’s first point against EG with a straight sets, 6-4, 6-4 victory at No. 1 doubles. Though neither won their match, the No. 2 doubles team of Maria Cimerol and Maddie Bishara and No. 3 team of Coralie Wilcox and Maia Cavanagh both battled back to force a decisive third set after dropping the first 6-2.
It is this kind of depth that will be a pivotal factor in North getting their record back above .500 this fall.
“Points can come from anywhere,” said O’Neill. “…Very subtle shades of gray going right down the ladder from [No. 1 singles]. It happens at least once every year, it comes down to the last match that’s out there and they have to win the match for you. Knowing that these girls can do it on any given day, that’s great.”
Though it is early, the tight-knit, self-motivated Skippers have shown already they have the talent and the confidence to put together a strong 2013 campaign if they continue to focus and battle as they have over the season’s first three matches.
“They all came into the year with a lot of belief,” O’Neill said. “They know there’s plenty of potential, so all I’m trying to do is keep them pointed in the right direction and keep them from not worrying about too much of what else is going on, so when it’s game day they can punch the clock and get after it.”
Following Monday’s match, the Skippers travelled to Bay View Wednesday to take on the similarly 2-1 Bengals (results unavailable at press time).
North Kingstown concluded its second week of play Thursday with the first of three-straight home matches, a 3:30 p.m. bout with Prout.