Young ’Canes hope to extend playoff streak
The Warwick Vets girls’ tennis team will have a different look this year. Lauren Smith returns as one of the best players in the division, but heavy graduation losses have left the team without much experience around her.
Still, the Hurricanes are hoping the differences won’t keep them from ending up in a similar spot as last year’s team, which won seven matches and earned the program’s second consecutive playoff berth.
“We have one of the top players in the division with Lauren Smith but unfortunately, it’s a rebuilding year around her,” said head coach Brian Palazzo. “We only have four seniors, and the girls playing singles were down in doubles last year. All my doubles players are new this year. Honestly, looking at what’s out there, we’re probably going to be right on that playoff line. Hopefully, we can get in.”
As recently as 2008, Vets was a powerhouse in Division IV. In 2010, Division IV was eliminated and teams were merged into a bigger Division III. The ’Canes had just two wins that year but have held their own since. They went 10-4 in 2011 before last year’s 7-7 campaign.
How they stack up this year depends on how quickly their returning players adjust to the singles court and how well their new players take to the doubles game.
“They’re learning as they go,” Palazzo said.
One area Vets doesn’t have to worry about is the No. 1 singles spot, where Smith is back to lead the team. She’s been a stand-out singles player throughout her career and she’s in the No. 1 spot for the second year in a row.
“If Lauren just plays strong and steady, she should win a lot of matches,” Palazzo said. “She’s someone who’s definitely going to enter the singles tournament and I think could make a run in the singles tournament. Her game has improved vastly. I played her one day last week, and I couldn’t believe the power and explosiveness on the ball. She’s hitting the ball real hard this year, her serving is more accurate – I look forward to watching her play. I think she’s going to have a great year.”
Freshman Corinne Gregoire has grabbed the No. 2 singles spot. She has some tennis experience and is poised to become a regular for the next few seasons.
“She has a lot of promise,” Palazzo said. “She’s taken lessons. She’s got a good game, it’s just getting a little more power behind it.”
Seniors Allison Chace and Kiah Marcotte are moving up to the second and third slots after playing doubles last season. They’re hoping it’s a smooth transition.
“They’re learning how to cover the whole court right now,” Palazzo said. “Hopefully they can pull out some wins so the pressure isn’t always on the doubles players.”
Those doubles players are almost all new. Sophomore Stephanie Racca is the only one who was even on the team last year.
Senior Allison Carpenter and sophomore Samia Pratt are currently holding the No. 1 doubles job. Junior Phone Htoo and freshman Briana Mather are in the second spot, with Racca and junior Jessica Ferreira in the No. 3 hole.
“They’re pretty much all new,” Palazzo said. “Stephanie was with us last year, but everybody else is new to the team.”
Vets is still hoping it can make some noise. It beat Hope 7-0 in the season opener before a 6-1 loss to Exeter/West Greenwich on Tuesday. Vets played Pilgrim on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time.
Early indications are that the ’Canes can hold their own.
“I think we’re definitely as good if not better than Hope, Central and Pilgrim,” Palazzo said. “I thought we were in the match against Exeter even though the score didn’t show it. That’s a team we could maybe take the next time. And Cranston East is probably comparable to us. The key matches this year are going to be the Exeters and the two against Cranston East.”
The goal is to find a path to more success.
“We want to win the matches we should, and hopefully find our way into the playoffs,” Palazzo said. “If not, we want to at least build something for next year – get the experience under our belts and get better.”