Girls' tennis sustains loss despite valiant effort
Despite a move to Division I last year that left the Skippers with a disappointing 3-11 season, they had an encouraging start this season with a 4-3 win over East Greenwich on Sept. 4.
The young team includes islanders Eloise Heath and Allison Smith, who alternate between number two and three singles, and seniors Leah Baines and Molly Welsh on the doubles teams.
"Eloise and Allison are very evenly matched. Every time they play a match against each other they always end up going to a tiebreak, so on any given day they can switch between number two and number three," head coach Lisa Vinacco said.
The match against the Rebels started out uneventfully, but early in the first set the number one singles player from South Kingstown, Kate Bucci, went down during a match with senior Brittany Gilbert, the Skippers' number one singles player.
Bucci resumed play after testing her ankle, but after falling again in the next game, she had to be helped from the court with a sprained ankle and forfeited her match.
Meanwhile, Smith was left to ice after winning her first set 6-1. Her opponent asked for time to gather herself after suffering an apparent anxiety attack, leaving an ill Smith standing on the sidelines for 15 minutes after Vinacco waived the 3-minute league rule.
"I would hope if it was one of our girls in a similar situation, another coach would understand," she said. "Could it have affected the outcome for Allison? It is possible, but it was the right thing to do."
"If I had been able to play straight through I may not have been as tired finishing the match if I had not had to stand out there as long, but I agree with what my coach did," Smith said. "I would want to take the time I needed if I was in a similar situation. This is high school tennis, not the pros."
Smith fought bravely in the second set, but eventually lost 7-6 on a tie-break, forcing a third set. The extra games took the toll on her, and she eventually lost the third set and the match.
"Allison is a great player with a really good attitude. She just wears down her opponents, but today it was her that was worn down," Vinacco said. "I asked her at one point during that third set if she was well enough to continue. She is such a fighter that she said she didn't want to lose by default, she wanted to play it out."
Heath, playing in the number two position, made quick work of her opponent. She won in straight sets, 6-2 and 6-4.
"Eloise is so mentally tough. She got her first shot at singles last year against South Kingstown and had to play in a similar situation to today with a lot of distractions going on around her. I don't know how she is able to focus, but she does," Vinacco said. "She just cruised today."
Part of Heath's success is the ability to put away her opponent with the right shot when she needs to.
"I think it comes from a lot of match experience," she said. "It has been a big change mentally this year for me to go from doubles to singles, but the distractions don't seem to be getting to me as much."
Baines did not win her doubles match, but Vinacco said what she brings to the team as captain is more than what she does on the court.
"Leah is a quiet leader. She is very supportive of the other girls and her senior leadership is important on such a young team," the coach said.
Although the match went down to the wire, with the final doubles team losing 6-4 to seal the match and hand NK a 4-3 loss, Vinacco said she was happy with the outcome.
"I want to see them get better every time they play, that is my goal. Winning is not everything and I hope they get that from me," Vinacco concluded.