PAWTUCKET — When the Mount St. Charles team bus rolled into the parking lot fronting Slater Park's Mike Kenny Courts on Friday afternoon, and head coach Sean McClelland stepped from it, a chorus of boos rang out from the Tolman High netters.
Most mentors would've been flabbergasted, and spoken immediately to the opposing coach about a lack of respect.
“I saw the Tolman kids standing their smiling, and I thought they were very eager to greet me,” he explained. “Then all I heard were boos, and I just grinned back. I thought it was typical, because I taught a lot of these guys in our youth tennis camp (with Pawtucket Parks & Recreation).
“I knew it was all in fun, that they were just teasing me. I'm on these courts all summer, from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Monday through Friday. I know very well all four singles players, as well as the third doubles team and half of the first doubles. I mean, I give them lessons all summer.
“I knew it was just their warped sense of humor,” he added, chuckling. “Then again, it could've been (veteran coach) Frank Laliberte's idea.”
It wasn't, but – in the end – McClelland had the last laugh.
His Mounties needed about an hour to sweep the doubles portion, and capture the No. 1 singles match courtesy of senior co-captain Jack Ricci's 6-1, 6-1 verdict over junior Teddy Reall, and later posted a 7-0 triumph in its Division II-North debut.
MSC had spent the past few years in the top division, but it recorded a 5-11 mark in 1-North last season; that's why it fell a level.
And, for the hosts, it was their second straight shutout, one that followed by 24 hours a beatdown to Middletown on this same surface.
“I was just looking for our guys to be competitive and to play to their potential,” stated McClelland, a former St. Raphael Academy standout who recalled many fierce battles against his old rival. “We've been practicing in the cold weather, so at least we got a good day for tennis.
“I was very impressed with our kids, especially since this was our first match,” he continued. “I had nothing to base it on because we didn't face Tolman last year. Even though it was 7-0, two of the matches went to three sets, so I think this is a good foundation for our future. We're looking to move forward.
“I can't say I'm optimistic, but I'm excited about (facing) the teams we're going to play. The kids worked hard, played hard and it showed.”
When asked about his initial greeting from his current and future students, and if he felt bad about the romp, McClelland answered tongue-in-cheek, “No, I don't have any sympathy for them. I'll have them working harder this summer.”
The No. 3 doubles unit of junior Matt Medeiros and sophomore Dan Bowen took little time in dismissing sophomore Nick Agin and freshman Joshua Davis, 6-0, 6-0, as they were the first ones off the courts; and Ricci gave the Mounties a 2-0 advantage with his victory.
“In warm-ups, I noticed (Reall) had a weaker backhand stroke, so I decided that would be my focus, especially early on,” Ricci said. “My net games when I'm more comfortable with my ground strokes, and the score. That's why I made a concentrated effort to try to attack his backhand.
“It feels good to start the season this way, but the ultimate goal is to get back here (to Slater Park in May) and play for the Division II (state team) championship. That's the primary thing, and – individually – I'm just trying to get a win for our team and help the cause. I just want to do my part.”
Stated Reall: “I thought I was going to play another kid at No. 1 (Matt Ceh-Castillo), but he didn't come out there. He's someone I played against in Sean's summer league here. I had some close matches with him, and – when I saw a different kid – I was kind of surprised.
“(Ricci) had a lot of spin on his shots, and he kept me off-balance,” he added. “I'd hit his serve back, but his shots were just better than mine.”
MSC garnered a 3-0 lead when the No. 2 duo of senior Ben Demers and Matt Saviano registered a 6-2, 6-1 decision over juniors Jonny Paquin and Oscar Urizar, then sealed the team win after the sophomore No. 1 pairing of Ethan Guevremont and sophomore John Blanchette upended the unit of sophomores Harrison Moran and Johnathan Hay, 6-2, 6-3.
Not long after, at No. 4 singles, junior Travis Connolly manufactured a 6-3, 6-2 triumph over classmate George Al-Amir; at that point, all Tolman had to play for was pride, and it most certainly showed.
Despite a superb effort from Tigers' junior Cory Letendre, senior co-captain Jake Deslandes survived a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 10-6 decision at No. 3, with the final set a super-tiebreaker; and – in the match of the day – sophomore Mike Doody snagged three straight games in the third set to escape with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over junior Mike Majdalani.
“Three or four years ago, we were in Division III and (Mount) was in D-1, but with the realignment two years ago, we got bumped up to Division II,” Laliberte said. “They were sent down after last year, so – now – two teams that were two divisions apart are in the same. That makes it tough.
“I'm also sure a lot of their guys have playing tennis from an early age, and for a lot of our kids, they hadn't picked up a racket until they reached high school,” he continued. “I just feel bad for Cory. For the second day in a row, he lost an identical match, a three-setter, and he couldn't get over the hump. I know he's down, but I also know over the next few matches, he'll be in a tight one and come out on top.
“He's got too much resolve, he's too much of a fighter, to let this get to him. He's improved so much since last year, so we're going to see some great things from him.”
Reall had been watching Majdalani's and Letendre's battles when he was asked if losing to McClelland, his “other” coach, made it easier to accept.
His quick answer: “No, it's worse, because we're going to have to see him this summer, and I know he won't stop talking about it.”