CUMBERLAND — For the first few weeks of the spring season, the courts have been empty at Tucker Field, the home of the Cumberland High boys’ tennis team.
That’s doesn’t mean the Clippers haven’t been practicing for their upcoming (and very challenging) campaign in Division I after a four-year absence. While work is in the process of being done to reconstruct the courts, longtime CHS head coach John Jasionowski has managed to prepare his squad by first utilizing the courts at the Abbott Run Valley Club and then over at the nearby Sher-Le-Mon Swim Club.
“We are kind of like gypsies, doing whatever we can right now,” said Jasionowski, who indicated the courts may not be complete until late May. “The kids are handling it well. They understand. It’s just frustrating not having a court.”
The lack of the Tucker Field courts has forced the Clippers to re-schedule some of their beginning home matches, including tilts against La Salle Academy, Lincoln and The Wheeler School. But according to their coach, the “Team Without A Home” has the ability to compete with some of the state’s best this spring.
The Clippers enter their newest venture after a very successful four-year span in Div. II, where they compiled a 57-7 league mark that included two runner-up finishes and two state championships.
The team crowns came the past two years where the Blue and White manufactured back-to-back undefeated 18-0 seasons.
From the 2010 championship squad that defeated Smithfield in the finals, only two seniors were lost to graduation. In other words, Jasionowski and his Clippers will have plenty of experience on their side.
“I figure we might finish 10-6, somewhere in the middle of the pack,” said the Clipper coach. “We might surprise ourselves. It depends how well they play.”
This year there are a few changes to Div. I. There will now be two subdivisions – North and South – instead of just one division. There will also be four new squads added, making it 12 overall.
Cumberland will compete in Div. I-North, joining La Salle, Mount St. Charles, Wheeler School and newcomers Smithfield and Lincoln. Div. I-South includes first-time teams Toll Gate and Westerly as well as Barrington, Bishop Hendricken, North Kingstown and 12-time defending state champion South Kingstown.
“It’s going to be very competitive on our side of the division,” Jasionowski confirmed. “(In Div. I-South), Westerly and Toll Gate, we probably have a good chance to beat them. I don’t know if we can compete right now with Hendricken, South Kingstown and Barrington. They are just so strong. They just reload every year.”
Cumberland lost its No. 1 and No. 3 singles players from last year with first-team all-stater Alex Werchadlo and Tim Luz receiving their diplomas in June. But the Clippers have plenty of returning veterans and some promising newcomers that could make things interesting this season.
Junior Eric Laboissonniere will take over the top singles’ spot. He occupied No. 2 singles last spring and finished the season as a first-team, all-division selection.
“He’s a heavy hitter,” Jasionowski said. “He’s got the ability to keep the ball in play and when he comes to the net, he puts the ball away.”
Randy Walker, a senior, moves up two spots from last year and will play at second singles. Junior Ben Proctor and senior Jeff Eaton are at third and fourth singles, respectively. Proctor and Eaton were the Clippers’ top doubles team from last spring.
Walker earned his position after defeating Proctor in a tight match last week to determine the lineup.
“They are close,” Jasionowski said. “They can be interchanged between two and three. They challenge each other. They push each other. It will make them that much better.”
The remaining varsity roster will feature senior Kyle Abbate and sophomore Andy Hecht at No. 1 doubles, junior John Chammat and junior Tyler Diedrich at second doubles and junior Brendan Casparian and sophomore Austin Ross at No. 3 doubles. Junior Jake Lamoureux and senior Mike McCaffrey also play doubles. Casparian and Lamoureux are the only first-time varsity players.
“We have a pretty experienced team and we only have four seniors, so that works out well. I figure in our division we should do well,” Jasionowski reiterated. “On the other side of the division, we should be able to contend with Toll Gate and Westerly. But there are three strong teams in Barrington, South Kingstown and Hendricken and maybe even North Kingstown.”
The Clippers will be tested right from the start when they open the season this afternoon at 3:30 against host Smithfield, a squad that finished 13-3 in the division last year and lost to Cumberland, 4-0, in the finals. The Sentinels lost few from last year and also have incoming freshman Matt Kuhar, who has earned the No. 1 slot.
“They have a strong 1-2-3 punch at singles,” Jasionowski said. “Right off, we’ll get to see how we can compete.”
What does the coach deem a solid achievement for his latest batch of players?
“If we can win our division, Division I-North, that would be successful,” he said. “We have 10 of 12 players coming back, that’s a pretty strong team.”
Again, there’s a good chance that Tucker Field may not be ready by season’s end, forcing Cumberland to have its home matches at a nearby site or possibly at their rival’s school. But that’s the least of the problems for the Clippers as they compete with the state’s elite.
“We are just going to go where we have to,” Jasionowski said. “That’s okay. We’ll just roll with the punches. We’ll get by. We’ll survive.”