By BRIAN JENNINGS
Although they qualified for last year’s postseason through the leadership of four, consistent seniors, the Lady Knight tennis team is still returning six players with varsity-level experience. All six have expectations to contribute significantly to the team’s success this spring.
But unlike last year, the Knights will be starting the 2017 campaign with somewhat of a blank canvas, trying to determine the right combination of singles and doubles players.
“We will have some new players entering our varsity lineup and hope they will have an immediate impact on our success,” said Southington coach Robin Thompson. “Our success will depend on the effectiveness of our players that are in new roles this season and how our freshmen handle competitive play.”
It’s almost inevitable that all returners will be playing in different positions this season, whether it’s a move from doubles to singles or to a higher level singles or doubles position. Freshmen are expected to break into to the varsity lineup.
“We have a number of players that continued to play during the offseason, in order to continue their skill development,” said Thompson. “Some have a year or more of varsity experience, which will contribute to the team’s performance in 2017.”
“We are excited about a strong freshmen class,” said Thompson. “Other freshmen are also vying for team positions.”
Living in the northeast can cause havoc on a high school team’s preparation for the spring season. With a late winter blizzard last month, coaches and players from the girls tennis team spent most of their time and effort shoveling snow off their home courts, which affected practice time.
“We lost time preparing for the season, due to the snow,” said Thompson. “We had planned to work on effective strategies for both our singles and doubles players to help them achieve success this season.”
The Knights finished last year’s regular season at 11-6 overall (5-4 home, 6-2 away) and tied for fourth out of five teams in the CCC Central Blue with a regional record of 3-6 and divisional record of 0-4. Glastonbury won the CCC Central Blue title.
In the postseason, the 17-seeded Knights qualified for the Class L tournament for the 11th-straight year, but were ousted early after falling, 5-2, at No. 16 Wilton in the qualifying round. After finishing runner-up to Darien the year before, No. 3 Staples won their first-ever Class L title by defeating No. 9 Greenwich, 5-2, in the final.
Southington lost four players to graduation after last season. All four players were key contributors to the team: Angela Balaoing, Natalia Gimenez, Kayla Kavanagh, and Samantha Lohneiss. Balaoing flip flopped with Gimenez at No. 1 and No. 2 singles during the season.
Following Southington’s early exit from the state tournament, Balaoing was one of three Knights to compete at the state open, held at Conard High School and Hall High School in West Hartford. Balaoing fell, 8-3, in the first round.
Lohneiss teamed up with Kavanagh to form Southington’s No. 1 doubles team during the season. The pair advanced to second round of the doubles tournament with an 8-0 shutout in the first round. But their postseason run came to an end following an 8-6 loss in the second round.
Seniors Kristen Mathew and Abigail Roy were selected to lead the Knights as the team captains this season. Mathew played at No. 3 singles last year and finished the season at 13-5. She is expected to return to singles this season.
Roy rounded out the starting lineup for the Knights at No. 4 singles last year, but may be looking to move to doubles this season. She finished last year with just one regular season loss.
Other key returners include juniors Samantha Barmore, Carolyn Callahan, Molly Murphy, and Coral Tommervik.
Murphy played at No. 2 doubles with Callahan in an overall successful 2016 stint. Murphy has worked to improve her game during the offseason and is looking to secure a singles position this season. Callahan is expected to contribute in either singles or doubles after fine-tuning her skills during the offseason as well.
Barmore played at No. 3 doubles with Tommervik last year and has been working for a higher spot on the doubles chart. After a successful 2016 campaign, Barmore is expected to move up in the doubles ranks. Tommervik is setting her sights on No. 1 doubles possibly, following lots of offseason preparation.
Southington added Rocky Hill and Pomperaug to this year’s schedule. Thompson is entering her fifth year as head coach of the program and currently holds an overall coaching record of 69-23.
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