Jamestown pair leads North Kingstown tennis team
A lot of players who have spent their entire high school tennis careers playing on the underdog team in Division I might not look back on the time fondly. But for islanders and best friends Eloise Heath and Allison Smith, the journey has been a fun one.
The two seniors are capping off their final year on the team as two of the North Kingstown High School tennis team’s three captains. Smith is playing in the number-two spot for the Skippers and Heath as number three.
Both girls made the varsity team as doubles players their freshman year and then moved up to singles as sophomores.
The Skippers team had made the jump from Division II to Division I at the beginning of the duo’s freshman year and they have spent the last four years taking on powerhouses such as Bay View Academy, Mt. St. Charles and Lincoln School. Or, in other words, private schools whose players play competitively year round.
“Knowing that we are going against the best of the best every time, it became more of a fun sport for us. It was more about doing your best, than being the best,” Smith said. “We know that [we] have tried our hardest, and that is what it [is] all about for us.”
Heath said that there were no surprises about the competition from the beginning. “Coming into freshman year, we knew we were going to be stuck in Division 1 because they had just moved up. So it was something we had to take, adjust to and make the best of,” she said.
Head Coach Jacques Faulise said playing in the tougher division makes the girls’ jobs as captains even more important.
“They bring a lot of leadership to the team. We would be good in Division II, but we aren’t very competitive in Division I,” Faulise said. “One of the most important things is to keep the spirits of everyone on the team up in a situation like that and they do a great job of that.”
Although the two girls are similar in their leadership of the team, their styles on the court are different.
“Allison is a strong girl and she likes to come up to the net and force an issue. She can really take control of the match,” Faulise said.
By comparison, Heath likes to hang back and work on her opponents from afar.
“Eloise has a great ground stroke from the baseline. She has a big strong forehand and she can really move someone around from side to side,” he said.
The coach’s assessment is a fair one, Heath said.
“The reason I do that is because my forehand is by far much stronger than my backhand. So, I use it to my advantage by moving people around the court,” she said.
Smith said that it is Heath’s ability to play the angles that makes her good at wearing her opponents out. “I have noticed that she does that to me when I play her. That is not so much my strength. My strongest shot is my serve, so after I serve I have the advantage to throw them off court and then I can move into the net,” she said.
Faulise did not coach the girls in their first two years, but said he has seen improvement just since coaching them in their junior year.
“They are smarter players and they are doing more with the ball on the court. They have gotten away from playing like country club players who push the ball back and forth,” he said.
Heath said she has noticed an improvement in her game since she started playing singles in her sophomore year.
“I hit the ball a lot harder and faster now than I used to, but more importantly, I play a lot smarter now than I used to because I have more experience,” she said.
Smith’s serve has gotten stronger during her high school career.
“It hasn’t always been that way, but I have noticed a big change this last year. Before I was just kind of a rallier. I would just hit anything back to no strategic location, just over the net,” she said.
The girls are divided on whether they will play tennis at the varsity level in college, but both plan to keep playing on some level. Smith’s first choice college is the University of Maryland College Park, where she says she would not play competitively, but she would like to play at the intramural level.
Heath, on the other hand, said if she chooses a Division III college, she would most likely play varsity tennis. “But, I could go anywhere from Maryland to Florida, so I haven’t really decided yet,” she said.
Both girls said that no matter what happens for the rest of the season, they will have fun and enjoy the fact that they made it to the top together.