MANCHESTER, NH – Competing with seven athletes who are mostly new to the sport, the Manchester Central High School boys tennis team has proven to be a pretty combative bunch.
That reality was on display Thursday evening when the Little Green dropped a 5-4 home match to Keene by the narrowest of margins, splitting the six singles matches and each taking a doubles duel before falling on the second doubles court.
“The kids really competed out there today. You know, a couple bounces of the ball could have gone either way changing up some matches,” said Central assistant head coach Mike DeBlasi. “But with two evenly matched teams, you kind of expect it to be close like that.”
The Little Green came out strong, with senior Jonas Weissberg earning an 8-5 triumph over Nick Walton on the first court, while Will Delaney shut out Ethan Lewis, 8-0, on the second court and Adam Robichaud edged Matt McGroer, 8-6, on court number three.
The Blackbirds stormed back in the next three singles matches, however, as Isaac Grablewski, Jimmy Gilroy and Joe Tedesco fell 8-4, 9-7 and 8-0 on courts four through six, respectively.
Weissberg and Delaney combined for an 8-5 triumph in first-team doubles action and Grablewski and Nathan Dupre fell 8-2 on the third court, leaving the deciding match on court two where Robichaud and Gilroy lost 8-4 to split the season series with the Blackbirds.
Keene coach Bill Hay credited both teams for battling hard with inexperienced ladders.
“That’s a pretty green team, and we’ve got a green team too … I can’t believe it was only one year off and we’re basically starting almost from scratch,” said Hay. “What I noticed with (Central) is the top-three guys were competitive and the bottom three guys are brand new, and I’ve got a team where I don’t have a single guy who played a competitive match before this year, so it’s something for (both teams) to build on.”
DeBlasi echoed Hay’s sentiment saying expectations have to be somewhat tempered based on the experience of the players.
“We say to the kids what we expect from them, and what we demand, is that they work hard and try to improve, every practice, every match, every week,” said DeBlasi. “It’s such a short season, and we know the rackets get put away for some of these guys just as they’re headed into summer, and they might not get touched again until next spring, so we just want them to strive to be the best players they can in the short window we have them on the court.”
That mentality was evidenced Thursday night by Gilroy, a natural athlete and football quarterback who played his heart out Thursday and literally bloodied his knuckles diving onto the court to try to save the deciding point in his 9-7 singles setback.
“And he never played competitive tennis prior to five weeks ago,” said DeBlasi, “and he’s improved by leaps and bounds.”
One of the main reasons the Little Green have been able to remain competitive with such an inexperienced ladder is the play and leadership Weissberg, the team’s captain who is in the midst of his fourth varsity season at Central.
“He’s a veteran. He’s a leader. He’s somebody for the other players to look up to,” said DeBlasi. “He knows how to play the game. He enjoys tennis, and he’s kind of a stabilizing force for us.”
And it appears Weissberg will have the opportunity to conclude his final high school season in the playoffs due to the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletics Association (NHIAA)’s decision to allow all teams into the postseason and begin play with a regional draw.
“It’s strange,” said DeBlasi. “We’ve certainly had teams that have been more talented or deeper top to bottom or who have had better records and haven’t made the playoffs. But as I understand it this year it’s an open playoff … with random seeding, so … we have no idea who we’re going to play, but there’s obviously a handful of teams that we can beat any day of the week, and then there’s some behemoths in the division, so who knows, we could play more than one playoff game depending on the draw.”
The Little Green are scheduled for three-straight tough matchups, first traveling to Exeter for a Friday night duel, then hosting the first half of a home-and-home with Hanover on Monday and Wednesday next week.
Central faces Trinity in a city clash on Friday the 14th and then treks to Concord on Monday the 17th before hosting the Crimson Tide on Wednesday the 19th to close the regular season.