By John Goralski
Robin Thompson herded her team back onto the tennis courts as Conard’s players filed onto their bus. Fans waited patiently as the coach huddled with her team for a long debriefing.
On Thursday, May 1, the Lady Knights faced their first test of the season in their conference opener. The girls survived with a slim, 4-3 victory, but Thompson hopes that the lesson wasn’t lost on her young team.
It doesn’t get any easier from here on out.
“This has been a big talking point for us over the last week or so,” said the coach. “The early season is a warm up, but the quality of our conference opponents is much different than what we’ve experienced so far. I think that today was a testament to that.”
Thomson’s singles players emerged unscathed. Alex Barmore, Angela Balaoing, Cassidy Race, and Catie Wormer each won in straight sets, but that’s nothing new. As a group, they have gone 23-1 since the season began, but Thompson knows that her team can’t count on singles to carry the full load.
That was the focus of their meeting at center court.
“We’ve got a really strong singles lineup that can compete every day, but they’re going to have their work cut out for them, too, as the season goes on,” she said. “That’s something that we just talked about. Going forward, we cannot rely on any individual singles player to take home a point in every match. We’re going to need some wins at doubles, and I’m looking for them to embrace and own that.”
Thompson wasn’t upset with her team. In fact, her doubles tandems have held their own in early contests as the Lady Knights strung together a litany of lopsided victories. The tight Conard match came on the heels of a 7-0 win over Windsor that showcased Southington’s young doubles.
Liz Costello and Natalia Gimenez shut out their opponents at No. 2 doubles, while Susan Murphy-Rianna Susco and Olivia Ende-Sam Lohneiss dispatched their foes in straight sets.
But the team’s youth and inexperience struggled a little against Conard. Thompson said that it’s all part of the learning curve.
“Conard is a good team, but I don’t think we competed for every point in the match. I think we let them beat us with unforced errors,” she said. “In doubles, it’s about that constant mental focus. You can’t rest on any single point. You can’t let up, and sometimes that can make it even more draining. You have to work to be involved in every single point of the match.”
On the other hand, Thompson said that she was pleased with her team’s communication on the court. At times, they seemed to handle Conard easily even though four of the six doubles players are new to varsity tennis.
“We survived, but we had an opportunity to have a different result here. I think this is a good learning opportunity for us,” said the coach. “It has to be continuous learning. That’s the only way that we’re going to get better. We have to continue to evaluate ourselves and learn.”
Now, the Knights will try to build as they face NW Catholic, Fermi and East Hartford this week.