The Hendricken tennis team doesn’t ever really rebuild, as evidenced by the fact that the Hawks have reached the state championship match in 10 of the last 14 seasons.
But this year’s squad is, at the very least, re-tooling, as it’s replacing its entire singles ladder and breaking in brand new doubles players off last year’s state runner-up team.
To boot, Hendricken has a new coach – albeit one who has been there in the past – taking over for longtime head man Mike Haxton, who stepped down after last season.
Essentially, there are a whole bunch of new pieces in place for the Hawks, and they’ll be trying to mold those pieces into another championship contender.
“We are very inexperienced,” new head coach Steve Crawford said on Tuesday. “Nobody is playing where they played last year. All of our singles players have never played singles and most of our doubles players have never played doubles. We’re starting all over.”
The team’s No. 1 player the last two years, Nick Walsh, is gone to graduation after reaching the individual semifinals a year ago. Consistent No. 2 Evan Chomka graduated, as did No. 3 Zach Prinscott. Last year’s No. 4 player, freshman Jack Hoy, is gone after his family moved to Florida.
And then there’s the coach. Crawford is new, but he comes with a pedigree. He coached Hendricken from 1974 to 1990, leading the Hawks to five state titles along the way. As a teacher at the school who had left and then came back to work part-time, he was a natural fit who could step right in.
“We had great teams,” Crawford said. “I had a lot of great players. We either won the state championship or were in the championship for most of those years.”
Helping out Crawford is one of his former players, Greg Boyer, who is serving as an assistant coach. Boyer has three sons on the team.
Crawford and Boyer will be trying to get the Hawks back in championship form. Hendricken hasn’t won the state title since 1993, and South Kingstown has won the last 14. But the Hawks have always been close, and they’re hoping to be right there again when all the dust has settled.
Right now, Hendricken is 2-1. It suffered a tough 4-3 loss to North Kingstown last Thursday, partly because the Hawks were missing one of their doubles players and had to shake up the lineup. Since then, they’ve beaten Cumberland 5-2 on Monday and Lincoln 6-1 on Tuesday to get back on the right track.
“Without having seen most of those teams yet, we’ll compete with any team,” Crawford said. “We’ll compete with South Kingstown, in that they’ll have to play tennis to beat us. Where we’ll be though, I’m still not sure. We’ll be in there.”
Adding to the difficulty is the new-look Division I, which should feature half a dozen teams with a realistic shot to contend. Toll Gate and Mount St. Charles moved down to Division II, while D-II champion Cranston West, D-II runner-up East Greenwich, and Ponaganset – which featured the individual state champion last year – moved up to D-I.
Already it’s been crazy. South Kingstown has a loss at the hands of East Greenwich, while La Salle knocked off perennial contender Barrington. With North Kingstown already flexing its muscles by beating the Hawks, and Smithfield – with the individual state runner-up on its team – off to a 3-0 start, it’s crowded at the top.
Each team will also only play 12 matches in the regular season, down from the standard 16 matches of the past. Everyone will play every team in the division once.
“We only have 12 matches,” Crawford said. “For the last 30 years, we’ve played 16 matches, with a home and home. Now, you play every team once. I don’t know who anybody has. We’re just trying to figure out who we have.”
The Hawks will see if they stack up. Playing at No. 1 singles is junior Carlos Arciniegas, who is 2-1 on the year after playing all over the doubles ladder last season.
“He’s had two, three-set marathons, both of which he won,” Crawford said. “He’s tough. He’s a backboard. He gets everything back.”
At No. 2 is senior assistant captain Matt Plouffe, another doubles player from a year ago. He’s also 2-1 on the season. At No. 3, senior captain Kelan Sullivan is handling the duties. He’s currently undefeated at 3-0. Senior assistant captain Jeremy DeMeo is playing No. 4, and he’s 2-1 so far.
Up and down the singles lineup, there is quite a bit of parity.
“What we have is that they can all beat each other,” Crawford said. “There’s no supercharged engine like a Ponaganset kid. They’re all of the same ability. It makes for some competitive practicing. We make people work.”
At No. 1 doubles, seniors Marcus Caron – who was sick during the NK match – and Casey Hodor are playing, and they each have some experience in doubles matches from last season.
The second doubles spot belong to junior Christian Boyer – one of Greg’s sons – and freshman Jordan Carvalhal.
“They’re just going to get better the more they play,” Crawford said.
Third doubles is sophomore Adeeb Komari and junior Mike Niederberger. Neither of them played last year, but they’re both tall kids who have the potential to make some noise.
Other players who could step in are junior Cory Sloan and freshmen twins Alexander and Geoffrey Boyer.
It’s a promising lineup, but one that is still finding its footing. If all goes well, though, the Hawks are looking to find their way into the top-tier once again.
“Not knowing the landscape, South Kingstown of course is good,” Crawford said. “They will always be the team to beat, and they already look like they are the team to beat. I’ll tell you, La Salle has a really good team, and they already beat Barrington. It’s hard to say, but we’ll be in there.”
Hendricken’s next match is Tuesday at Wheeler at 3:45 p.m.