CUMBERLAND -- Cumberland High head coach John Jasionowski admitted being both surprised and impressed when a representative of the American Cancer Society attended a state interscholastic tennis meeting last spring.
“She asked us if we wanted to have some kind of event for cancer awareness, and I thought it was a good idea,” Jasionowski stated while his Clippers warmed up for a Division II crossover match against Classical on Tuesday afternoon.
“But things went so fast last spring during the boys’ season, with postponements and other stuff, we didn’t have an opportunity to do anything,” he added. “Honestly, I had forgotten all about it until about four weeks ago.”
One night, he was tossing a pink tennis ball to his dog, a Jack Russell/shih tzu mix named Rascal, when it dawned on him he had yet to assemble an event.
“A pop just went off in my mind; we didn’t have a lot of time left in our season, and I knew October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Jasionowski said. “I called Steve Cohen, Classical’s head coach, and asked him what he thought of having a special Breast Cancer Awareness tennis match when we played them.
“I knew he’d do it because Steve is amiable to anything,” he continued. “I told him I wanted the girls to play with pink tennis balls, and he said, ‘I can get them,’ so I said I’d buy special pink tennis shirts for both of us to wear.
“We had a parents meeting a few weeks ago, and I told them we were doing this; Lola Duclos, one of the girl’s moms, decided she wanted to do something, put together a fund. She said she had a couple of friends with breast cancer, and she wanted to honor them.”
Jasionowski later drove to the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Research Foundation in Pawtucket and spoke with a woman about his plans.
“She just said, ‘Great! I’ll see what I can do,’” he mentioned. “The next thing I knew, she came back with a bag full of pink ribbon pins and enough pink headbands and wristbands for both teams. When I explained to the girls what we were doing, they were all for it, and that was fantastic.
“They’re at the age where maybe they don’t realize that breast cancer is a major issue with women, and that – hopefully not – they may well develop breast cancer themselves. My wife had a lumpectomy about 15 years ago, and thankfully it was benign. My mother-in-law also had a tumor removed from her breast, and she had to have radiation for a period of time. That was a tough time in our lives.”
The good news on Tuesday: Lola Duclos indicated she had helped raise approximately $300 for research, and that the cash and checks would be delivered to the Gloria Gemma foundation soon.
The bad for Cumberland: Cohen’s Purple played superbly and snared a 7-0 decision over the Clippers, who fell to 4-7 but are still chasing the final state playoff berth in Division II/Suburban A.
Classical, on the other hand, improved to 10-1 in D-II/Suburban B, and did so with three elementary triumphs at the final three singles spots.
Junior Lilika Negishi rolled to a 6-0, 6-0 verdict over sophomore Sara Laboissonniere at No. 2, while senior Ali Krekorian had to work for her 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over senior Brianna DeCesare at No. 3. Like Negishi, freshman Jessica Spindell lost only four games in a 6-3, 6-1 thumping of senior Bridget Connors.
That occurred after the Purple’s senior tandem of Jackie Gomes and Maggie Metdick recorded a 6-1, 6-0 victory over senior Katie DeBlois and junior Sarah King, so Spindell’s decision proved to be the game-clinching point.
“This is a rebuilding year because we graduated eight girls last year; believe it or not, we didn’t win a match, and scored only five (team) points all season,” Jasionowski noted. “Most of our losses were 7-0, so it’s encouraging for us to have grabbed four wins this year.
“However, I have three seniors playing in three of the four singles slots, and one senior at No. 1 doubles,” he continued. “The great thing is I have 20 freshmen and sophomores on the team, and just one junior, so next year some of these underclassmen will move up to singles, so we’ll have experience for the next two or three years. That bodes well for us.”
To give credit where it’s due, senior No. 1 singles player Alexis Descoteaux exhibited stellar play before suffering a 7-5, 7-6 (5) defeat to sophomore Sachie Springwater, who improved to 10-1 on the campaign.
“She played her heart out,” Jasionowski said of Descoteaux, who lost for only the second time at the top spot (8-2). “She was up in both sets, but Sachie came back and pulled it out. It was just one more rally for her. They were hitting long points, and the tiebreaker lasted a long time.”
Classical also swept the final two doubles to garner the shutout, but neither were easy.
At No. 2, junior Bianca Donadio and senior Katerine Issa mustered a 6-1, 7-5 triumph over sophomore Taylor Duclos and frosh Natalie Cunningham, while the senior duet of Hannah Leheny and Diba Bijari eked out a 5-7, 6-3, 10-4 super-tiebreaker verdict over freshmen Alexis Delgado and Sydney Tilton.
“I didn’t play well at all; this summer, I was playing at Abbott Run and I dislocated my knee while serving,” Laboissonniere said. “It was achy, I think because the cold was affecting it. But I will say we were excited about having this special thing. It was for a good cause, and we all support fighting breast cancer.
“I mean, at least 90 percent of us know someone who has it. My grandmother didn’t have breast cancer, but she did have lung cancer, and it was tough to get through. It affected everyone in my family.”
Stated DeCesare: “We had never done anything like this before, and we all wanted to back it. My family really hasn’t been affected by cancer, but I thought it was a great opportunity to support something so important as a team.
“As for how I played, I don’t know,” she continued. “(Krekorian) just got to me, and I became more inconsistent. It wasn’t the (cloudy, chilly surroundings) because – actually – I enjoy playing in the cold. I don’t sweat as much, and I also don’t overheat.”
King claimed her serving was off, perhaps because of the wind, but explained why her quality of tennis was secondary.
“(Losing) does make it easier because you know, if you put the effort into your match, you did for the cause, too,” she stated. “I thought it was terrific, helping out the breast cancer foundation and bringing more awareness.
“Honestly, we spend so much time on these courts practicing and playing, after a while, it gets boring; you get sick and tired of it. But, when you have an event like this, throw something way beyond tennis into the mix, it’s nice.
“I haven’t specifically had cancer affect me, but my grandmother and great-grandmother have had breast cancer scares where they both had to have surgery,” she added. “That was still scary. At that point, we didn’t know how serious it was, but it’s still definitely something that needs to be talked about more, beginning with us as teen-age girls.”