PAWTUCKET – For the North Kingstown girls tennis team, 2013 had been called a ‘dream season’ by some. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Skippers ran to a 9-3 regular season, finishing third in Division I-Met A behind East Greenwich and LaSalle.
The Skipper awoke from their dream, however, when their season came to an end last Thursday in the RIIL Division I semifinals with a 4-1 loss to LaSalle at Slater Park.
“Terrific team, LaSalle,” said North coach Tim O’Neill. “More power to them. A lot of depth a lot of talent.
“Not that I came away from our regular season match thinking, ‘Aw, geez, we should have beaten them.’ I knew we could have. We certainly played with them fine, so to be out there and playing against them here again, huge chance, huge opportunity. You never really know exactly how it’s going to play out until it plays out.”
In pursuit of the upset against the two-time defending state champion, the Skippers took an early lead as the No. 3 doubles team of Maddie Bishara and Maria Cimerol came up with the match’s first point.
After securing North’s quarterfinals win against Barrington on Tuesday with a 6-1, 6-0 victory, Bishara and Cimerol tore through their competition yet again in straight sets. LaSalle’s Olivia Gould and Allison Paul never even threatened as North’s duo opened up a 4-0 lead en route to a 6-1 win in the first set and then deftly finished things off with a 6-0 win in the second, giving North a 1-0 overall lead in the race to four.
Unfortunately for the Skippers, that is as close to an upset came as they would come as it was the only point they scored in the contest.
Coralie Wilcox and Maia Cavanagh were the first to fall as the No. 2 doubles match was the next to finish as Sierra Musumeci and Elizabeth Healey evened the overall match for the Rams with a 6-1, 6-1 win.
North then fell behind 2-1 with the end of the No. 1 singles match as Mary Morabit dropped a 6-0, 6-1 decision to Lauren Bertsch and fell to within one point of elimination as Maria Bolibruch could not get much going against Natalie Pitocco at No. 4 singles and the Rams put away another straight sets win, 6-1, 6-0.
Taylor Masi struggled in her first set at No. 2 singles, which she dropped to Dayna Reilly 6-1, but the North junior, who had set the tone for the Skippers in the quarterfinals, started to find her game in the second set with the overall match on the line.
It was, however, too little, too late for the Skippers as Masi could not overcome a 3-0 second set deficit, losing 6-2 and giving LaSalle the 4-1 win.
“Seeing the girls last weekend in the pressure cooker that they were in [at the individual championship], it’s a little up and down and that’s always the case,” O’Neill said. “There are going to be growing pains on one court, on another court they’re going to be business as usual. It’s a lot of fun. It’s always pins and needles until it all plays out, but it was a terrific outing.
“…I didn’t know if Maria was hurting before she started and she was an absolute tiger. She played some of the best points I’ve seen her play all year. Taylor started a little bit lost and absolutely found her mojo at two. Grace at three, she’s found a degree of confidence I just didn’t see in August. Mary, absolute warrior. And the dubs crew, they’ve been overachieving all year.”
Two matches were still in play after the match was called with Reilly’s win at No. 2 singles. North’s No. 1 doubles team of Lucia Bolibruch and Grace Callahan, who had beaten LaSalle’s Lindsay Brazenor and Kat Braganca just four days prior to capture the RIIL individual doubles title, were on their way to doing so again having won their first set and holding a 4-3 lead in the second when play was suspended.
Grace Zangari was not fairing as well at No. 3 singles, having dropped her first set to LaSalle’s Caroline Dunn 7-5 and trailing in the second 2-1 when the match was called.
With the win, the Rams advanced to Saturday’s championship match where they could not successfully defend their crown against an undefeated East Greenwich team. While the Skippers fell one step short of the ultimate goal, for O’Neill the beauty of the unexpected success of the 2013 season was less about the destination than it was the journey.
“It’s impossible to quantify it,” said the coach, “but when all of a sudden they’re one big unit, they’re not a bunch of individuals out there playing on their own, they’re just all rallying around each other and there’s just a real cohesiveness. It’s hard to measure it, hard to capture it, but when it’s there, I think you can see it.
“…Knowing that the potential to really do something, knowing that the potential is there, that’s fine, but when they realize it, when they evolve, they develop, that’s just fantastic. That’s so much fun. It’s been terrific just watching so much. Some of these guys used to be JV players, now terrific, strong varsity players. It’s hilarious watching them come so far, so fast.”