The constant pop of tennis balls hitting racket strings echoed around the Airport Fitness Center courts, where the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys’ tennis team was part way through practice on a recent spring day.

First year co-head coach Ryan Sawyer stood just off the court, deftly flicking tennis balls off his racket to initiate play in a team drill.

Ryan Sawyer and Tony Omer are sharing role as head coach of boys' tennis this year. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“Close the net fast,” he advised one of his players.

“The racket has to accelerate through the shot,” he told another.

MVRHS tennis is a familiar environment for Mr. Sawyer. Five years ago he was a team leader on the squad that won two consecutive division 3 state championships, wielding a strong serve and a stronger forehand for the Vineyarders.

He remembers the days fondly.

“We got better each year,” he recalled. “We had kids who didn’t even make the starting lineup. One of my friends ended up playing college tennis and wasn’t even in the starting lineup in high school because we had such a deep team.”

Mr. Sawyer moved on from the high school team to excel in division 3 college tennis at Colby Sawyer College in New London, N.H. As a senior at Colby Sawyer, he earned all-conference doubles first team honors, all-conference singles second team honors and was named the Northern Athletic Conference tournament most valuable player.

He admitted college tennis was a big step up from the competition he saw in high school.

“It’s definitely tough the first few years because you’re not used to everyone being really, really good,” he said. “In high school usually the top one or two players are really good and it drops off. In college there’s a lot more guys at the same level. It’s much more competitive that way. You have to find ways to beat people who are your level all the time. It’s more strenuous in terms of workouts, time commitment, and overall you’ve got to be ready to work every day. It was also a lot of fun.”

Now he is back on the Vineyard, using his business degree working for his father who manages the UPS store in Vineyard Haven, and taking on stints as a substitute teacher at several Island schools.

Co-coach Tony Omer handles most of the team’s administrative duties, while Mr. Sawyer handles most of the on-court instruction and coaching. Teaching tennis is a lot different than playing tennis, but he’s not starting from scratch. Mr. Sawyer is certified as an instructor by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), and has worked at Vineyard Youth Tennis instructing some of the kids who now play on his high school team.

“Instead of knowing how to play you have to learn specifically what people are doing with each stroke and the technique that they need to have a good stroke,” he said. “It’s relating to people, trying to establish a connection with people. They feel comfortable working with you and you know what they like and what makes them play their best.”

Mr. Omer said the new coach has taken to the job well and is destined to become the sole head coach soon.

“He’s doing great,” said Mr. Omer. “He’s already gained the confidence to consider doing this on his own. He’s great with the kids. Part of it is he’s practically their age. He also knows how to push them. They respect that. Ryan has been particularly aware of the variety of personalities and what each player can add to the team.”

Most of the team members are freshmen and sophomores, a particular challenge for a first-year coach.

“We’re young,” the young coach said. “A lot of kids have experience playing USTA tournaments, where we travel on weekends and play tournaments. We don’t have a lot of kids who have played a lot of high school matches. But they have match experience at the USTA tournament level, so we’re excited to see how they’re going to do at the high school level. We have some talented kids, they just need the experience of playing tough high school competition.”