It happens to every high school coach: the June loss of graduating seniors. For a small school, losing those veterans can be tough to overcome.
By Mitch Silver
It happens to every high school coach: the June loss of graduating seniors. For a small school, losing those veterans can be tough to overcome. Consider Rye Neck, whose 6-6 team last year was senior-heavy. Two of the top three singles players and a pair of key performers in doubles donned their mortarboards in 2014.
On the bright side, Coach Shawn Lincoln discovered a new star at first singles April 13 against Pleasantville: eighth-grader Josh Williams easily beat one of the better players in the area. He topped Chris Durrang — a boy who’s at least half a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier — 6-3, 6-0.
Afterwards, his coach was genuinely excited. “Josh put together an outstanding performance against a strong player. I think it puts him into the conversation about qualifying for a spot in the Conference Tournament later in the season.”
The 5-2 non-league loss to powerful Pleasantville was a real improvement over last year’s 5-0 whitewashing, with several hard-fought matches going down to the wire. Junior Tom Collins gave Durrang’s brother Sean a real battle at second singles before falling, 6-1, 2-6, 10-4 (tiebreaker). Freshman Ryan Francavilla also gave it a good fight at third singles, struggling to hold serve before going down 7-5, 6-0.
Coach Lincoln, though, was upbeat. “Tom showed flashes of getting into a great rhythm that I hope he will be able to carry into our league matches. And once Ryan is able to tweak his serve, I think he has a strong foundation to build on as we go through the season.”
Senior captain Alex Styler and junior Felipe Silva lost 4 and 2 at first doubles, and sophomores Jake Fagan and Hunter Greenhill also lost in straight sets. The third doubles team of Henry Wang and partner Nick Toutoungis won the first set in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (7-4). They dropped the second in another squeaker, 7-5, before losing the super tiebreaker 10-6 and the match.
The third super tiebreaker of the afternoon went the Panthers’ way. Sophomores Alex Kebbe and Ben Styler, who took a bagel in the opening set, fought back from 2-5 to win the second set in a tiebreaker, before closing out the match 10-6.
“We had a lot of players partnered with new teammates for the matches,” Coach Lincoln noted. “So I was a little unsure about how the pairs would stand up. Overall, I thought the team gained valuable experience against a competitive squad, and hope that we can carry that experience into our upcoming league matches.”
Those matches began just 24 hours later, as Rye Neck hosted Woodland post-press time. They’ll meet Pleasantville in a re-match April 20. It should be interesting to see if those close tiebreakers tilt the other way.