2013-10-03 / News

Girls look to cap off perfect year, shoot for number-one seed

By Margo Sullivan

Jamestown resident Rebecca Small, 17 and a senior, starting playing tennis last year. She plays doubles on the North Kingstown juniorvarsity team. 
Photo by Margo Sullivan Jamestown resident Rebecca Small, 17 and a senior, starting playing tennis last year. She plays doubles on the North Kingstown juniorvarsity team. Photo by Margo Sullivan Head coach Dick Ernst has positioned his junior-varsity girls in familiar territory this week – on the brink of an undefeated season and a run at another state title in girls’ tennis.

The team is currently 6-0 with two matches left in the regular season. First up is South Kingstown, then the Skippers wrap up the regular season Friday with a game against Prout. Ernst wants the team to win those two matches and go into the playoffs as the top seed.

It’s not uncharted territory for Ernst. The Skippers had a perfect season two years ago and walked away with the state title, but last year they fell short in their title defense. North Kingstown finished the season 8-2 and lost in the finals to Barrington.

Despite the ending last season, Ernst said the 2012 squad was a great team. He thinks they could have won the title if his top player, Cora Lee Wilcox, had stayed healthy for the playoffs. Cora Lee was unable to participate in the tournament because of an illness, but she’s all better now and contributing on the 8-1 varsity team.

“But I don’t want to make excuses,” he said.

The varsity squad – with lots of Ernst’s former players – and the JV squared off on Wednesday afternoon at North Kingstown. The results won’t count in the standings, but it’s a chance to give the younger girls a little experience playing against a higher level of competition.

Ernst is fairly confident the junior-varsity squad will be in the playoffs, but he spent some time at practice explaining why the point totals matter in the final two contests. The results could decide whether or not the team has home-court advantage. At practice Monday, the coach told the players he wants the team to pick up 10 points in the last two matches.

The team finds out the playoff berths and schedule next week since some of the teams are still wrapping up their seasons.

Ernst is hoping for the top overall seed, and if that’s the case, the quarterfinal round and the semifinal round would be played at North Kingstown.

The finals would be at a neutral site, however.

The Skippers have outscored their opponents 28-2 so far this season.

“That’s very good,” the coach said.

According to Ernst, North Kingstown has only faced four teams in its division because the interscholastic league has organized the divisions a little differently this year. There are three leagues with five teams. The teams play each other twice.

North Kingstown is in the league with Mount Hope, Portsmouth, Prout and South Kingstown, and that means the Skippers haven’t played La Salle, Moses Brown or Barrington – yet.

Two weeks ago the team placed third in the state doubles championship. Moses Brown came in first with 24 points, Barrington collected 23 points, and the Skippers racked up a total of 22 points.

“So we almost won that,” he said.

Jamestowner Rebecca Small has been contributing to the effort, Ernst said. Rebecca, 17, is a senior who just started playing tennis last year.

“A lot of people said it was a fun sport to play,” she said.

They were right, she added.

Rebecca is the daughter of Beth and Chris Small. She is also on the track team at North Kingstown. Rebecca plays only doubles in competitive matches.

“I really just like playing doubles matches,” she said. In practice, she occasionally plays a singles match against her partner, Jenna Shippee of North Kingstown, but she’s a doubles specialist.

And the hardest thing she had to learn?

Rebecca hardly had to think about the answer. That would be not to hit the ball back to the player at the net, she said. If the net player has a shot at the ball, she can put it away.

“Compared to other teams, you can tell that we practice really good drills to make us improve,” she said.

That’s all due to the coach, she added. He shows them how to use solid cross-court shots to bypass the net player and can stop her from hitting easy winners. Also, Rebecca said, the Skippers know how to capitalize when they go up against players with weak crosscourts shots.

Ernst started coaching in the fall of 1961. He has coached 111 hockey and tennis teams at both the college and high-school levels.

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