Every tennis team in Division I knows better than to think it’s in prime position to knock off South Kingstown. The Rebels have won 13 consecutive state titles and have handled plenty of strong teams along the way.
It’s more about giving yourself a chance to dethrone the Rebels, and that’s exactly what Bishop Hendricken is shooting for this season. The Hawks have a talented singles lineup and if things develop on the doubles ladder, they might be able to challenge the Rebels.
But they’ll just worry about earning the opportunity.
“I’m not going in thinking, ‘Oh, we’re going to take out South Kingstown,’” said head coach Mike Haxton. “But I told the kids, our goal is to get to the finals. And anything can happen there. We’ll be the underdogs. We’ll have nothing to lose. Go out swinging.”
Throughout South Kingstown’s streak, the Hawks have played the role of finals underdog many times. Nine of South’s 13 titles have come on championship victories over Hendricken.
In recent years, Barrington has made a strong push, getting to the finals in four of the last five years. The Hawks have been bounced in the semis in each of those seasons.
The one exception was in 2009, when the Hawks beat Barrington in the semis and pushed South Kingstown to the brink before losing 4-3. That’s the closest anyone has come to the Rebels in the finals since 2006.
With the 2012 season underway, the same three teams figure to be leading the pack again.
“If I was a betting man, I would say one’s going to be SK, and we’ll be battling Barrington for the No. 2 position,” Haxton said.
The best news for the Hawks is that this team has a similar profile to that 2009 squad. The top three singles players are experienced, and the doubles teams have potential.
It’s reason enough for the Hawks to be optimistic.
“This team reminds of the team four years ago that went to the finals and lost to South Kingstown 4-3,” Haxton said. “I’m comfortable with my singles guys, one through four. We’re working on the doubles.”
The singles lineup is headed by three standout seniors. Nick Walsh was a semifinalist in the state singles tournament last year, and will hold down the top spot on the ladder. Evan Chomka is a four-year starter and will play No. 2. Zach Prinscott, who had a strong junior season, will be in the third spot.
“Three starting seniors,” Haxton. “That’s a good place to start. We had some ladder matches and my No. 3 beat my No. 2 once in a best two out of three. He also took Walsh to three sets. So we’re strong there.”
Freshman Jack Hoy has jumped into the fourth spot, and Haxton expects him to be solid.
The doubles teams are led by junior Kelan Sullivan and sophomore Carlos Arciniegas, who return after a strong season together a year ago. The rest of the lineup is still in flux, with Haxton searching for the right combinations among juniors Marcus Caron, Jeremy DiMeo and Matt Plouffe and sophomore Christian Boyer. Several other players who are alternates at this point could also make a push.
“They really are all in the mix,” Haxton said. “If someone comes on strong in practices and I feel they can jump in, they’ll jump in. There’s no such thing as job security in the doubles right now. If you win, you’ve got job security. If you don’t, you’ve got other guys practicing just as hard.”
And they’ll certainly keep working. The Hawks will put a big emphasis on finding the right setup for their doubles lineup.
“The key to us having a shot is going to be the doubles teams,” Haxton said. “By the end of the year, somebody’s going to have to step up in doubles.”
Though it’s early in the season, the Hawks have already gotten a taste of what it will take to hang with South Kingstown. The teams played each other in last week’s season opener and the Rebels posted a 6-1 victory. Prinscott had the only victory for the Hawks.
While that wasn’t the way the Hawks wanted to start their season, they’ve now got a pretty good idea of where they stand and what they’ll have to do to give themselves a chance.
“We play the best of the best,” Haxton said. “As I said to the kids, the end is what’s going to count. They know now how much work we have to put in.”
Hendricken followed up the loss to South Kingstown with a 7-0 sweep of Toll Gate on Thursday. The Hawks will be back in action today at 3:30 p.m. when they visit Barrington.