They are one of the most successful Vineyard teams of the year, their record only surpassed by their undefeated male counterparts and the 21-3 boys’ basketball squad. They won a second league title in the Eastern Athletic Conference; their only two regular-season losses came at the hands of Barnstable, an undefeated Division 1 powerhouse.
The girls’ tennis team is a curious mix of young and seasoned players: three seniors, five juniors, five freshmen and a sophomore. Their season ended in the most bizarre way possible: a two-day affair in the section semifinals played at four different sites and involving four ferry rides — this could only happen to an Island team — and who knows how many bus trips before closing out in an exhausting loss. Still, the semifinals trip was the farthest the program has ever advanced.
Even as their 2012 season closed out with the 3-2 loss to Cohasset last Friday, the girls’ tennis team was throwing down the gauntlet.
Of course, the gauntlet gets thrown around a lot, usually right before each match. When doubles player Julia Cooper was a freshman, she and her teammates used to challenge one another to see who could win the most games in a match; lacking an actual medieval glove to slam on the ground as the challenges were announced, Cooper, now a junior, labeled a fuzzy green tennis ball The Gauntlet. It’s become part of the team’s pre-game ritual: before each match, the girls toss the substitute glove around their team circle as they get psyched up for competition. The pep talk closes with The Gauntlet being spiked on the ground, a sharp ending to the buildup.
If the competition at first singles is paying attention to this, she’d see a preview of what’s to come in her match — the unexpected point-winning slam of freshman Samantha Potter’s racket breaking up what had appeared a perfectly well-matched volley. In her first year on the team, Potter destroyed nearly all challengers, including Barnstable’s Kristin Donnelly — Potter’s face lights up remembering the win — and advanced to the South Section quarterfinals of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association Individuals Tournament. It took a singles champion (Cohasset freshman Emma Davis, who won the South Section individuals) to bring her down in the Cohasset match.
From the start, things seemed off in the finals match. Both teams had identical 16-2 records going into tournament play, so seeding was determined by the toss of a coin. Cohasset landed the second seed; the Vineyarders took third. When both squads advanced in their brackets to a head-to-head showdown, Cohasset, the higher seed, ended up with home court advantage.
Play began indoors, at the Weymouth Racquet Club. Unlike most matches, it was second singles that started, throwing off Potter’s preparation and putting junior co-captain Annie Burton out on court earlier than she expected.
Burton fell 3-6 in her first set against Emily Smith, but began to rally in the second, pulling off return after return as she came within reach. But three and a half hours later, when the doubles teams finally finished their matches within minutes of one another, Burton and Smith were still dueling. Potter and third singles player Wendy Wen had not even started play yet.
At first doubles, senior co-captain Alyssa Adler and junior Dylan Brockmeyer fought to a 7-5 first set win, but opponents Caitlin DeAngelis and Gabrielle Lemoine overpowered the pair in the next two sets, 3-6, 1-6.
This was the first season Adler and Brockmeyer had played as a pair; last year, they were number two and number three singles. They make a formidable combination, with Brockmeyer’s power strokes and slams and Adler’s stealth serves that force returns to go everywhere but the actual court.
“I never liked doubles before this year,” she said in a team interview with the Gazette this week. Brockmeyer smiled. “Me, either,” she said.
Cooper and Hackney, on the other hand, have been at the doubles game for some time now — Cooper has only played singles once in her tennis career, during this year’s match against Clinton. Their experience showed against Cohasset opponents Kate Sookiesian and Meredith Spofford. They dropped their first set 4-6, but took the second 6-4, and continued the rally through the seemingly never-ending tiebreaker set before picking up the 7-6 win.
It was 6:30 p.m., four hours after the girls had arrived. Their time on the courts was up. Burton’s match was still in progress.
At 7:15 p.m., all the singles players were on the courts of Scituate Middle School, playing beneath the lights as evening descended. Potter was losing to Davis at first singles, but she held off the inevitable as long as possible so her teammates wouldn’t be alone.
“It does a lot on the court,” head coach Connie McHugh said of the technique.
Burton took her third set 6-3 to win the match.
The teams were tied 2-2, with Wen still playing. She stormed to a 6-0 win in the first set against Cohasset’s Hannah Rawson, and was down 1-4 in the second when Island time interceded. The girls had to leave Cohasset in order to make the last ferry home. Per school policy, teams cannot have overnights without prior permission.
“We ran into the track team on the way back,” Cooper said, “And they’re like, how’d your match turn out? It’s still going, we said.”
Hannah Rawson of Cohasset drove home to rest. Wendy Wen climbed on a bus, boarded the ferry—missing senior class night, where she received a tennis award in absentia — and finally drove home. The next day, four players made the same trip in reverse to Cohasset. The home crowd was large by high school tennis match standards — about 50 people strong.
“They brought their Cohasset school flag,” recalled freshman Charlotte Potter, Samantha’s sister. “And we were three people saying, go Wendy!”
“We should have a flag,” Brockmeyer suggested.
Rawson took the second set 6-1, and Wen was in a 3-0 hole in the third when rain forced the match to be relocated yet again, this time to the Scituate Racquet Club. Three games later, more than 24 hours after it all began, Cohasset prevailed.
“Wendy played really well for some one who’d gone through that pressure,” Charlotte said. “I think if anyone else was out on that court we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we had.”
Coach McHugh agreed and praised her team. “At the beginning of the season we set a goal to go someplace in this tournament and we nearly, by an iota, hit that goal,” she said.
“It’s very powerful for a group of people to band together and set a concrete goal like that and then actually attain it — it’s pretty fabulous,” she added.
“This team’s just really supportive of each other,” Burton said.
Samantha Potter agreed. “I love it how tennis is usually a singular sport — or in doubles you have a teammate — but I thought it was really awesome because for once in my tennis career I was able to talk to people while I was playing.”
Coach McHugh stresses the importance of maintaining team spirit. Though they do not see as much playing time as the starting seven, Charlotte Potter, Celia Mercier, Lily Bick, Katherine Donegan, Diamond Araujo, Josie Iadicicco and Avery Hazell have each played in at least one varsity match, and are crucial on the sidelines as they cheer their teammates on. Older players are paired up with freshmen as big sisters to ease the transition to the team and high school life in general.
“It was like, “Yes, I’m not alone anymore!” Potter said of the season.