Blue Knights show ‘heart to play,’ earn first win

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MANCHESTER, NH – With no boys varsity team this year, the only vestiges of Manchester West High School’s once-great tennis program are seven varsity girls learning as they go.

“They have the heart to play, they really want to do it,” said head coach Corri Wilson, who has coached the West girls volleyball team for the last two years and stepped up to keep the girls tennis program on the court this year.

“They’re showing up each day to practice they’re showing up for matches and I’m trying to give them feedback and they’re trying to implement that,” she said, “and that can be a real struggle some days, you know, when we have limited time and limited resources, but we’re all getting to know each other and work together and I think everybody is having a good time and getting better at tennis.”

That certainly proved true this week as the Blue Knights earned their first win of the varsity season.

Competing against cross-town rival Trinity for the second time in three days, West flipped a 5-4 Monday score to earn the victory Wednesday afternoon.

Helena Jackson
Helena Jackson is West’s top player this season.

Though West’s top player, Helena Jackson, dropped a tight 8-6 match to Trinity’s Clare Tran, her teammates, Ella Hanson and Prashna Ghalley earned 8-6 and 8-1 victories, respectively, on the second and third courts.

Nevaeh Spears was narrowly defeated, 8-6, and Kyleigh Pierce fell, 8-2, before Amber Mathison was awarded a 1-0 forfeit win and the Blue Knights entered doubles action tied at three.

There, Jackson and Hanson took care of business, earning a crucial 8-6 triumph over Tran and Rheya King, which, combined with a forfeit on the third court, gave West the win.

The 5-4 result brought to fruition Wilson’s hope that her young sparks would learn from their mistakes Monday when the Blue Knights nearly made it two-for-two against the Pioneers, first splitting the first six singles matches at Trinity High School and then each taking one of the first two doubles matches before falling on the third doubles court to narrowly miss the victory.

“When you have close individual matches, as well as the overall match, it shows there’s much more parity in play,” she said. “To me, I’d rather lose than be crushed, and I think some of the girls are realizing how they could have played a little better and even advocated for themselves more in matches, and that can make the difference between a point or two, which can make the difference in a match.”

The fact that two weeks in a row West has improved play in the second dual against the same foe, as they did last week against Souhegan, illustrates a growing maturity amongst the players, said Wilson.

“Honestly, I’m incredibly impressed with the amount of growth so far. Their level of play has improved faster than I expected and the girls are gelling as a team better and more quickly than I expected, so that’s fantastic,” Wilson said. “Sadly, West has been on the losing end of most sports for awhile. That’s a reality, and I keep telling the girls it’s not just about winning, and it’s never about winning at all costs. It’s about playing your best game, adjusting to the circumstances where appropriate and just keep getting better at your own game.”

One of the main reasons for West’s steady improvement has been the leadership of Jackson.

“Helena has been stepping up,” said Wilson. “She’s very much a thinker and I don’t even have to ask, she just comes up to me and tells me what she’s thinking and how she feels about her game and what she’s noticed, and that’s the kind of leadership I want. She’s calm and collected under pressure. She never gets too excited when things aren’t going her way and I just think she’s a good role model for the other girls.”

Kailia Thomas, who sits fourth on the West ladder, did not play this week but is als a key contributor for West this season.

The Blue Knights are scheduled for three more matches in the next couple weeks, first facing Milford in a home-and-home on May 5 and 7, and then closing the regular season by hosting Manchester Memorial on May 10.

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Ryan O'Connor

As a longtime journalist in Southern New Hampshire, Ryan O'Connor has written for several local online and print publications covering everything from school board meetings and local high school sporting events to major crime stories and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary (yes, the last two are mutually exclusive). In addition to spending time with his beautiful wife and four amazing children, Ryan enjoys attending and serving at church, golfing as much as possible, home brewing, playing softball and snowboarding when time allows.