PAWTUCKET — At Tolman High's first team practice a few weeks ago, third-year head coach Carminda Rocha sat down her players and offered them a simple philosophy as to how they should attack each match.
That is, keep the ball in play, or continue to be cautious during rallies.
“I told them to try to extend the point; that, if they didn't make an error, eventually their opponent would,” Rocha said.
Her Tigers pretty much followed that advice at Slater Park's Mike Kenny Courts on Monday afternoon, cruising to a 6-1 Division III-East triumph over archrival Shea High.
“I thought we had a pretty good outing; I think the girls are starting to gain experience, and the younger players are learning how to win,” Rocha offered after her squad moved to 2-1 on this still-young campaign. “Once you win a couple of matches, you start to get some confidence, and that's what they're doing now.
“Tennis is such a mental game, I told them they need to focus not on the outcome but to concentrate on one point at a time,” she added. “Obviously, the better the player you're facing, then you can't just keep hitting it back. You've got to move (the foe) around; I've explained to the girls you always need a strategy, and to find out what your opponent's weaknesses are, then hit it to that side.
“They're doing a better job of that.”
Rocha's bunch swept the singles portion against the young Raiders, and junior No. 2 Rochellie Mejia led the charge, scoring the squad's initial point with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Shea sophomore Victoria Araujo. Minutes later, Tolman added to that lead when senior No. 1 Sierra Fraettarelli downed fellow senior Haley Knight, 6-0, 6-1.
Shea sliced the deficit to 2-1 after the top freshman-junior tandem of Ariel Davey and Angelina Fang posted a 6-1, 6-2 verdict over senior Jennifer Mongeau and Tayla Agin, but Tolman's No. 2 duet of juniors Kelly Ram and Stephanie Greenberg avenged that defeat with an identical 6-1, 6-2 win over Raider juniors Amy Batista and Estefania Clauijo.
Fraettarelli's fellow co-captain, senior Olivia Larson then edged sophomore Maria Giraldo, 6-3, 6-1, at No. 3 singles before classmate Maizah Gomes manufactured a 6-3, 6-4 decision over freshman Arianna Davey.
“My usual No. 2 singles player, Alyson Cohen, was out because she had to work, so I had to restructure the lineup,” stated veteran Shea coach Kate Corry, whose club fell to 1-2. “I had to move everyone up; I had to break up my No. 1 doubles team (of freshmen and identical twins Ariel and Arianna Davey).
“I didn't want to, I didn't have a choice,” she continued. “Because of the ladder, I had to move my next best singles player up to No. 4 singles, and that's Arianna … We did OK. When four of your top five players are sophomores and freshmen, you can't complain. We're just taking it one match at a time and hoping to improve, gain some experience.
“A lot of these kids are student-athletes who want to play tennis; they're not tennis players. They don't play (U.S. Tennis Association) tournaments, and they have no formal lessons. They don't play in the summer, so we're just out here two months of the year. The way I look at it, if thise encourages them to play tennis the rest of their lives for fun and exercise, we've definitely accomplished something.”
Mejia, for one, claimed it didn't matter to her that Tolman was battling its crosstown rival.
“Every school is the same in terms of rivalry, and my desire to win,” she grinned after she improved to 3-0 on the season. “I will say that my serve was pretty good. I got my first one in most of the time, which I don't do a lot, and I was really pleased with my forehand. It went over the net low, just over the net, and I had a little pace on it. That usually doesn't happen, either.
“Coach had told us at our first practice about different strategies; she told us to be consistent, keep rallies alive and wait for the opponent to make a mistake.”
Fraettarelli admitted being worried before facing Knight in her top singles bout.
“I didn't expect to win so easily,” she said. “Last year, Shea's No. 1 player (Christy Guerrero) was really good, and I thought her replacement would be the same or better. The key was my serve. I liked it. I was hitting to the alleys, to her backhand, and that caused her into some errors.
“The one thing that bothered me was that one (game) loss,” she added with a chuckle. “I was up 4-0 in the second (set), but I made a lot of mistakes. I don't know what went wrong … I think the advice Carminda (a former standout at both East Providence High and Rhode Island College) gave us was excellent.
“She told us to just keep it hitting it back, don't be too aggressive and don't go for the win unless you absolutely have it, and that's helped. I'm not like Rochellie and Olivia; I don't hit the ball really hard, and I'm not the most strategic player, either, so if I just worry about hitting it back, they'll make a mistake eventually.”
In the tightest doubles match, the Tigers' No. 3 pairing of senior Andrea Bayona and junior Ashley Ise managed a 6-4, 6-1 triumph over juniors Jocelyn Cante and Kelcy Fortes.