2011-10-20 / News

Skippers’ tennis qualifies for playoffs for first time

BY MARGO SULLIVAN

For the first time in school history, the North Kingstown girls’ varsity tennis team has made the Division-I playoff, and a Jamestown senior has helped lead the way.

Sarah Smith, one of three senior team captains, played her final regular season match on Tuesday. But she’ll be back on the Fairway Drive tennis courts in one week for the team’s quarterfinal match against Moses Brown School.

Sarah, 17, and doubles partner Meghan O’Brien of North Kingstown should be tournament tough by then. They played last weekend, Oct. 15 and 16, at Slater Park in the state doubles championships and made it to the semifinals.

Tennis coach Jacques Faulise said this has been a banner year for North Kingstown with Sarah and Meghan in the state doubles championship. His third team captain, Hannah Zangari of North Kingstown, is still vying for the singles championship and was scheduled to play again on Saturday. Faulise called her the best player in school history.

Although the girls’ varsity will lose veterans who are graduating, Faulise is looking forward to next year because he expects some up and coming junior varsity players will keep the team in contention.

The junior vasity team, under coach Dick Ernst, went undefeated this year, and several of the junior players also were varsity alternates this season. North Kingstown is bringing the 2011 season to its most successful close ever with both the JV and senior varsity going to the playoffs.

Sarah and Meghan went three “very grueling” sets against Mount St. Charles before losing in the tiebreaker, Sarah said. That final score was 6-3, 5-7, 5-7.

And it was their second threeset match on Sunday. Earlier in the day, they won the quarterfinal round against Lincoln School for Girls, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

“I played to my full potential,” Sarah said. “I am unfortunately not going on to the finals this upcoming Saturday, but I played my best and that is all I can hope for.”

No question, she will be ready to help the varsity girls’ team in the playoff quarterfinal next week.

On Tuesday, before the final regular season match against Barrington, the team presented the seniors with yellow roses and brought the parents out for a picture with their youngsters.

Sarah started playing tennis at age 5 when her parents, Evan and Amy Smith, enrolled her in lessons at the Conanicut Yacht Club. Her older sister Allison also plays. Sarah was hooked right away.

“I never put the racquet down,” she said. But she played most of her tennis for fun over the summers.

“I never took it too seriously,” she said, but last year, when she and Meghan were ranked fifth in the state, she began to strive for that elusive winning season.

Sarah only played doubles tennis in high school, she said. She enjoys it more than singles.

“It really depends on the person and how they like to play,” she said. “A lot of people like to play by themselves.” She added that doubles is “more rewarding.”

She likes the chemistry with a partner and said she finds losses easier to handle.

Of course, Sarah and Meghan seldom lost this year.

Asked about their secret, she pointed to the benefits of experience and sticking with a winning combination.

“Last year, I played with the same partner,” she said. They didn’t make it through the qualifying round at the state championships, but they learned from their mistakes.

“We were ranked fifth; we had an off day,” she said. But this year, they “took charge,” Sarah said.

“We learned more about what we’re good at,” she said. “We tried harder and really wanted to win.” In the regular season, they lost only two doubles matches, she said.

“The two matches we lost both were three sets and very close,” she said. Thinking about her effort afterwards, she has seen ways she could improve her performance and win the next time.

“When we were going into the season, we did not think we would have a winning season,” she said. But the team surprised itself.

“It’s been a reversal of past years,” she said. “Our whole team is stepping up,” she said. At interview time, North Kingstown had racked up an 8-3 record.

“We are currently on line for fourth [best in the state],” she said. The high point for her this season came in the first match against Lincoln School for Girls, then the top-ranked R.I. doubles team.

“We had an amazing day, and we beat them,” she said. “We just got the taste of winning, and we jumped on it.”

And yet, next week could be her last tournament tennis match.

Sarah’s thinking about studying science in college but is doubtful about a collegiate tennis career. If she plays college tennis, she anticipates she will try out for a junior varsity team or play club tennis.

She has just started college applications but knows she wants to major in marine biology. Science is her favorite subject, she said. She is applying to the University of Maine, the University of New Hampshire and the University of Rhode Island.

“My goal is to live on a research vessel,” she said. She wants to work with animals. She likes everything from plankton to larger mammals, she said. “It all interests me.”

If North Kingstown wins Tuesday, the team will play the semifinal match Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Slater Park in Pawtucket.

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