North Kingstown girls’ tennis prepares for title defense
“If we stay healthy and if my regular five teams are in order – with everyone here and ready to go – we have a good chance to win everything again this year,” said coach Dick Ernst.
Ernst is especially optimistic after he watched his team dominate the state doubles championship just two weeks ago. “That was a great day for the girls. They won the team point total going away.”
And they won the individual point competition, too.
North Kingstown sent five teams to the quarterfinals. By the semifi nals, all four teams were comprised of Skippers. In the championship match, North Kingstown’s top squad, Cora Lee Wilcox and Maddie Bashira, faced off against its second team, Maya Cavanagh and Kate Ziegler.
The team’s 2012 record is 7-2, but this team has a hard act to follow. Last year’s JV team finished the season undefeated, and capped off the perfect record by winning the title.
“Five of my kids from last year are starting and winning matches at the varsity level,” he said.
But three players from that 2011 championship team have returned to this year’s squad – captain Brooke Finocchiaro, Liv Becker and Gabriella Andreozzi, all of North Kingstown. Ernst said they’re leading a young team with a lot of talented freshmen.
“We lost most of our players from last year,” Brooke said, “but surprisingly, we’re doing really well.”
Three islanders are newcomers on the team this season. Allison Baldwin and Jaime Leonard, both 15, and Rebecca Small, 16, played in the Portsmouth match on Monday afternoon.
They also played in the squad’s most exciting match this season, a 3-2 win against rival South Kingstown. One of its top players, Cora Lee, was out with an ankle injury.
Brooke and Liv played together on the fourth team and won the tiebreaker 10-9 to clinch the match. “You can’t get more exciting than that,” said Ernst.
Jaime said the South Kingstown match, which was her first appearance for the Skippers, was fun. She wasn’t nervous, even though the Skippers and Rebels were in a close contest. “I was ready,” she said.
Everyone who tried out for the team made the roster. There are 18 players.
“That’s what’s good about North Kingstown,” Rebecca said. “You have a chance to gain skill.”
All the Skippers saw action against Portsmouth.
Rebecca, who is the daughter of Chris and Beth Small, won her match 6-0 on Monday. She was on the cross-country team the last two years but decided to try tennis this year. Rebecca took lessons over the summer.
Allison, a sophomore and the daughter of Carol and John Baldwin, is coming back to tennis after a three-year hiatus.
“I played field hockey last year, and I just wanted to try tennis again,” she said. She has not lost a doubles match so far this season. “I like the strategy. I think we have a really good team. We’re all like a big family, and we have a really good shot.”
Jaime is the only islander who isn’t a native. Her family moved to town when she was in sixth grade. She is the daughter of Mary and Gary Leonard.
She started playing tennis this season because she wanted to try something new. The last four years she’s played field hockey.
“I wanted to change it up,” she said. “That’s my motto.”
On Monday, as the squad prepared to face Portsmouth, the coach reminded the players to take it one match at a time. He has confi dence this team will do the job, he said.
“These kids work very hard and diligently in practice. My job is to make them feel they really want this championship. Sometimes, on the JV level, girls come out to have fun and be part of a team. I’m trying to keep stoking those embers to get them really fired up for the playoffs and then winning everything.”
Ernst said that he doesn’t feel the team will be underdogs in the postseason. The Skippers lost the season opener 4-1 to East Greenwich, but the team has improved since then and revenged that loss. They beat East Greenwich 4-1 last week. He told the girls at practice that it was the E.G. match that showed him they have the caliber to net another state championship.
“That East Greenwich coach was having fits,” he said. “He couldn’t believe it.”
The team will have a chance Friday to revenge its only other loss, a 3-2 defeat that Barrington handed them.
Ernst told the players they have to want to win to be state champs. “I want it, but I can’t do anything,” he told them. “You have to want it.”
Ernst said the rest of the roster, all from North Kingstown, are Sara Murray and Rachel Kantor, the No. 3 team; Allison Lindo and Emily Evangelista, the No. 5 team; Gabriella Andreozzi, first reserve, followed by Katie Mancieri, Sarah Campbell, Jenna Shippee, Lauren Kaureger, Sarah Kervin and Hannah Cook.