Skippers lose in bid to defend state title
The North Kingstown boys’ junior varsity tennis squad went to the state finals last week, but fell just short of defending the title they won a year ago. The 11-man team – with only one freshman aboard – carried an undefeated season into the playoffs. They carried a 20-game winning streak into the state championship against rival South Kingstown.
But the perfect season came to an end last week with a 4-1 loss in the finals. Even though they fell just short of their goal, the Skippers’ head coach was still proud of the team. “They had another great season,” Jacques Faulise said.
The Skippers had compiled a 10-0 record during the regular season, on top of the seven consecutive games they won in 2011 to finish off the season. Last year North Kingstown won the state individual doubles title and the team title – most of that experienced squad returned this season. The JV team plays only doubles. The Skippers had enough players to field five teams – ranked one through five in order of expertise. The team also had an 11th man.
Players Chris Mallon and Nick Barzaghi, both juniors from North Kingstown, were undefeated this year as partners. They won eight games in the No. 1 doubles spot, and two games in the No. 2 slot.
Islander Ben Lee, 16, played on the No. 3 team. He went 7-2 in the regular season. Even though the Skippers had some dominant players at the top of their roster, Ben attributed the team’s success to its depth. He said there were a lot of talented players spread through all five doubles teams, and not just a couple of spectacular phenoms who played on the top squad.
“What was unique about it was,” he said, “we had 11 players who had to make a tennis commitment for six weeks and be at every practice and every match.”
Jamestown’s Finn Dwyer was the only freshman on the team. Finn, 14, is a tennis newcomer. He played on the fifth team. He had a 9-1 record this season and helped the Skippers reach the final round after a victory over a challenging Smithfield team.
The Skippers and Smithfield had dueled to a 2-2 deadlock, and Finn’s doubles match would prove to be the decider. It didn’t look good for North Kingstown in the early going, Faulise said, because Finn and his partner were down 5-1. But they battled back. The pair took the match 10-8, and the Skippers knocked Smithfield out of the tournament, which set up a date against South Kingstown, which had won its semifinal round against Barrington.
During the regular season, the Skippers defeated South Kingstown twice. Unfortunately for North Kingstown, the championship match was played on the Rebels’ home court. Also, one of the Skippers had to miss the state championship, leaving a spot open for the 11th man. Even though the sub “stepped up,” according to Faulise, the Skippers still fell short.
Despite the disappointing loss, the North Kingstown tennis program is moving ahead. Faulise said as many as four of the JV players could move up to varsity next year – barring the arrival of some amazing freshmen who make the varsity team.
“The program is growing,” he said. Faulise said the school is winning recognition across New England. For example, the U.S. Professional Tennis Association recently named him high school Coach of the Year in recognition of last year’s two undefeated regularseason varsity players – Hannah Zangari and Dan Hansen – both of North Kingstown. Zangari won the girls’ state title last fall, while Hansen was the 2011 runner-up.
Ben said he will definitely try out for the varsity squad next year. He loves the competition. Finn also said he would like to make the varsity.
“It’s a goal,” his mother said. But she added that Finn, who will only be a sophomore next year, may have a lot of competition for the varsity.
Finn has only been playing tennis for three years. He took lessons at the Conanicut Yacht Club and at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. All told, he had taken about seven lessons before he went out for the JV team.
Ben is a bit more experienced. He started taking lessons at the Conanicut Yacht Club when he was 6 years old, although he has only played during the summer. He plays both singles and doubles at the club, but thinks he prefers the doubles game.
Ben is also on the indoor track team at North Kingstown.
Finn played JV soccer last fall, and his team made the playoffs, losing in the first round to Bishop Hendricken. As expected, his soccer game helped with his footwork on the tennis court. “I’m very fast,” he said.
When the time came for tennis tryouts, he didn’t have to worry about not making the JV team. “I knew there were no cuts,” he said. “But I was confused about how the tryouts went. All we did was play matches.”
He didn’t know those results would dictate team rankings for the rest of the season, he said. If he doesn’t make the varsity team, he hopes to play a bigger part on the JV squad. He said he will work on his game so he can move up from the fifth team.