Heading into Wednesday’s match with Shea, the Warwick Vets tennis team was still looking for its first victory of the season.
But one big victory happened before the season began.
After the school was forced to cancel the 2012 season because of a lack of participation, the ’Canes set out on a recruiting blitz and are back on the court this year with a full roster.
No matter what challenges they face between the lines this season, beating that first challenge was a major victory.
“After Christmas break, we had a big recruiting effort,” said head coach Dan Robinson. “A lot of freshmen and sophomores came out for the team, which is huge. If it had been 10 seniors, we would be in the same boat next year. A couple of the guys actually belong to a club, and I’ve got a few more who just want to play. Hopefully we’ll build on that.”
This season represents a long-awaited fresh start for the program. Vets was stuck in Division II for several years despite significant struggles. When they finally moved to D-III in 2011, they couldn’t field a full lineup. Then came last year, when the bottom fell out.
Getting a team back on the court this season was important not just for the kids who wanted to play, but for the program as a whole. The cancellation of a season is no small thing in the eyes of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.
“We were essentially on probation last year, so if we didn’t have a team this year, it was basically going to get cut,” Robinson said.
That prompted the recruiting effort, and the results were just what everybody was hoping for. One senior, one junior, four sophomores and five freshmen signed on.
Most are new to tennis, but they’re excited to be out there.
“It’s always a good group of guys,” Robinson said. “They’re fun and they have a good time out here. That’s all that really matters.”
The newcomers dominate the lineup, starting with the singles ladder. Sophomore Andrew Falaguerra is playing No. 1 singles, with freshmen Christopher Smith and Matthew Smith playing in the second and third spots. Junior Kyle Morrissette is playing No. 4.
The first doubles team is made up of sophomores Gabriel Shaker and Trent Mochel. Senior Jacob Desmarais and sophomore Aaron Gordon are in the second spot. Freshmen Sean Tamboe and Joe Basker are penciled in for No. 3 doubles, with freshman Stephen Quinn and sophomore Mark Russo also in the mix.
“It’s definitely a young team,” Robinson said. “About half have a good idea of what they’re doing, and half don’t. We’ll build on that, and in a couple of years, we’ll see where we are.”
That’s the best part of having a young squad – a program that was in danger of falling apart can now think about the future.
“It feels like every game this year is going to be something else to work on,” Robinson said. “It’s good, because if we do that now when they’re freshmen and sophomores, we can see the benefit of that down the road.”
For now, the focus for the new players is learning the game and starting the process of learning how to win.
“At first, it was volleying – just keeping the ball in the court,” Robinson said. “Now, we’ve been working on a lot of winner shots. We’re volleying a lot, just hitting it back. Now, it’s how you finish off an opponent – how far you hit it, drop shots, baseline shots.”
So far, the ’Canes are 0-3 but they’ve picked up individual victories from Falaguerra and Morrissette.
“From the people we’ve played so far, it seems like the competition is right in line with where we should be,” Robinson said. “Now it’s a matter of getting them up to speed.”
And then the ’Canes will see where that takes them.
“I threw out the goal at the beginning of the year that I want to be back to a .500 team,” Robinson said. “The first six games, it’s going to be all over the map. After that, I think we can compete.”