One year removed from the best season the Pilgrim girls’ tennis team has had in a decade, the Pats are back in a state of rebuilding.
Pilgrim graduated seven seniors from last year’s 10-4 squad that reached the Division III quarterfinals, and it returns only three players with any real varsity experience.
Only one of those players has significant singles experience from a year ago, meaning the Pats will be banking on a lot of improvement as the season goes on.
While last year’s big, experienced senior class had paved the way for high expectations, this year’s group will need to gain that experience before head coach Shon Campbell can gauge exactly what it can do.
“I just explained to the girls, they’re going to be thrown in the fire, just try to get better and have some fun with it,” Campbell said. “What they put into it is what they’re going to get out of it. We’re not really worried about the scores. If they can become better players and better teammates, we’ll have a fun year.”
The season didn’t get off to the best start, as Pilgrim had its initial season-opener postponed on Thursday against Central because of transportation issues, then lost 7-0 to Coventry on Friday in what turned out to be its first match of the year.
But it’s still early, and that’s a point of emphasis right now.
“[Last year] shows that if you work hard, you can have some success,” Campbell said. “The season just started, and I think that once we get going and a few weeks go by we’ll come together as a team.”
Of course, there are some big shoes to fill.
Gone is four-year varsity player and three-year No. 1 singles player Maria Guirguis, who led that big senior class.
“She was just a phenomenal player,” Campbell said. “We were blessed to have a player of that talent for four years.”
The Pats also graduated Courtney and Aleshia Ricardo, Caitlin Barone, Karissa Roun, Alyssa Wilcox and Melissa Lundin.
It’s going to make for quite an adjustment.
“The girls will learn how to play singles,” Campbell said. “They have an idea right now, but you learn from experience in this game. They’ll grow. We’ll see, just one game at a time. They’re definitely a work in progress.”
Taking over at the No. 1 singles spot is senior Julietta Ayriyan. She played singles last year in both the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, and she’s improved since then.
Still, moving all the way up to No. 1 is a sizeable transition.
“It’s four singles going to one, and that’s a big jump,” Campbell said. “I think she can fill the shoes, but at what level?”
Behind her is senior Stephanie Sweet, who played a little singles last year but spent most of the time at No. 1 doubles. She’ll play No. 2 singles this year.
At third singles is junior Madison Craik, who was out for the team’s match against Coventry. At No. 4 singles, senior Rosario Romare will step in after seeing some doubles action last season.
“We have doubles players that are moving up and being asked to play singles,” Campbell said. “Not only just moving up towards higher skill, but learning the game.”
Senior Breena Reeves played at No. 4 doubles in Craik’s absence – as Romare bounced up to No. 3 – but she will typically play No. 1 doubles along with senior Courtney Smith.
Smith played a little doubles last year.
Currently, seniors Paige Dion and Ashley Hagar are playing second doubles, while senior Abigail McCormick and freshman Katie Lundin are playing at No. 3.
One thing in Pilgrim’s favor is the competition on the team, as there could be movement throughout the lineup as the season wears on. There’s not a whole lot of difference between some of the doubles players and some of the singles players, skill wise.
“A lot of the girls are basically at the same level,” Campbell said. “Who wants it more, who’s content to stay at doubles.”
The Pats were scheduled to have their second match of the season on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time. After that, their next match is Wednesday at Warwick Vets at 3:30 p.m.
The hope is that the more Pilgrim plays, the better it will be.
After all, playing regularly is the only way for the Pats to gain some varsity experience and get comfortable in their new roles.
“We’ll have some fun,” Campbell said. “Just having the girls come out with a positive attitude, they’re learning the game and just being able to play the game at a varsity level, those are some perks for the kids.”