For a program with a rich history, last season was a down year for the Hendricken tennis team. The Hawks went 5-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time this century.
They’ll be trying to right the ship this year and get back to the postseason, but it’s going to be a difficult job thanks to inexperience, youth and a whole lot of roster turnover from last year.
No one playing singles has ever played in a high school singles match before, and no one playing doubles has ever played in a high school doubles match.
“I’m really not sure what I have yet, except a lot of inexperience,” said head coach Steve Crawford. “We’re going to be challenged at times this year.”
The Hawks’ top six players from last season – Carlos Arciniegas, Matt Plouffe, Kelan Sullivan, Jeremy DeMeo, Marcus Caron and Casey Hodor – are all gone, leaving the team with a lot of ground to make up.
In Division I, which was deeper than usual last year, Hendricken will be learning on the fly against the best competition in the state. On Thursday, it lost its season-opening match 7-0 to North Kingstown, and the Hawks won only one set.
“There are some terrific tennis teams that we know are going to be up on us on every court,” Crawford said. “But there are some teams that we’ll be able to compete with and I think there will be some teams that we can beat.”
Still, there is reason for optimism both this year and in the future. While the players are largely inexperienced, they’re talented, and a little exposure to actual matches should be exactly what they need to foster their improvement.
“I’m really excited about what is at the bottom of the ladder and percolating up,” Crawford said. “They’re going to get on courts this year.”
That said, there are some seniors on the team who are leading the way. Hendricken has three senior captains – No. 1 singles player Christian Boyer, No. 4 Mike Niederberger and No. 1 doubles player Cory Sloan.
Boyer is stepping into the top spot after spending last season in the doubles ladder.
“He’s going to meet some kids that are tremendous,” Crawford said. “But he’ll compete all the time. He’s a very competitive kid.”
Behind him in the No. 2 spot is sophomore Jordan Carvalhal, who also played some doubles last year as a freshman.
At No. 3 is junior Adeeb Komari, who was the only player to take a set in the North Kingstown match.
“He’s a tall, strong kid who’s improved a lot from last year,” Crawford said. “He’s physically imposing, so I think sitting at No. 3 he’s going to have an interesting year. I think he’ll do okay. I expect him to win matches.”
Niederberger is playing in the No. 4 spot after playing doubles last season, and Sloan and freshman Michael Bittner are handling the duties at first doubles.
At No. 2 doubles, Christian Boyer’s younger twin brothers Alexander and Geoffrey are playing together. They’re both sophomores. Neither of them played any varsity last season.
“They’ve never played together before,” Crawford said. “It’ll be interesting to see how they interact.”
The No. 3 doubles team is made up of sophomores Christian Kirby and Peter Cienki. Neither of them were in the tennis program last season, but they’ve both caught on quick. Kirby is a standout soccer player in the fall, while Cienki is the younger brother of former Arizona State tennis player Dierdre Cienki.
Other players on the roster are Aidan Burke, Sean Conti, Christopher Couture Del Valle, Frank Gramlich, William Macera and Vincent Zizza.
The new-look Hawks will be pushing to compete, at the very least.
“There will be growing pains,” Crawford said. “I think high school tennis, at least in our top division this year, there is a group of haves, a couple teams right in the middle and then there’s a group that’s going to really struggle I think. I like to think we’re right in that middle group.”
And if everything falls right, they’d certainly like to be back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus.
“I’d like to get into the playoffs,” Crawford said. “That’s our goal. But the future is bright. I think this team in another year will be really competitive. And in two years we’ll really be moving.”
Hendricken’s next match is today at Lincoln at 3:30 p.m. It will then host Cumberland on Thursday, also at 3:30.