Tennis Adjusts to New Playing Fields
By Ellen Oliver
Last spring, the Nashoba boys’ tennis team rode a winning streak to the state finals against Martha’s Vineyard. This year, the boy’s team is hoping the playoff magic holds for them again while adjusting to new playing fields, literally and figuratively.
The new five-court spread at Nashoba opened this year near the soccer fields, giving the team room to stretch out. The team is no longer huddled on the three courts that were nestled in the trees off the Auditorium entrance of the school. “The courts look like they belong there,” said Coach Brenda Mason.
“The new courts are absolutely wonderful. There’s a nice drain between courts three and four, so it dries quickly,” said Mason. “The Booster Club bought a shed for storing balls and equipment. That’s been nice, too.”
The coach praised the new wind screens with their subtle Nashoba “N” that’s visible from the top of the hill, but doesn’t affect the views of the players or fans. She admits the new courts do get more sun, making serving more challenging on one side, but said the additional sun has been keeping the courts dry during the spring.
Mason says the new courts don’t only provide updated playing surfaces, they also offer more playing time. “With the five courts, we can play more exhibition matches. They can play each other, but when you play versus an opponent it gets your juices going,” said Mason. Now more players can play and still get everyone home at a reasonable time. “ No one was happy coming to Nashoba,” said Mason. “With three courts you knew you’d be here until 6:30 playing.”
The other new playing field for the team is a promotion to the tough Mid-Wach A league. Nashoba will be competing in Mid-Wach A Division 3, but will be playing Division 1 teams, such as Wachusett, Algonquin, and Shrewsbury. As a reward for their success last year, Nashoba will face 11 of those Division 1 teams in their 16 match-ups this season. Mason said, for this year, Nashoba will vie in the playoffs in the Division 3 bracket, but next year will move to Division 1 for post season, too.
While Coach Mason is familiar with the top players in Central Mass, thanks to the individual playoffs in tennis, many of the teams are new to Nashoba. But that works both ways, with most of the Chieftain players unknown to the Mid-Wach A teams, with the exception of the Vennapusa brothers. “There’s no doubt Pri and Pra have a reputation in Central Mass,” said Mason. The brothers, both seniors, have been solid performers at first and second singles for Nashoba since their freshman year.
The Chieftains passed the first test, defeating Algonquin 3-2 on the road to open the season. All three of the singles players (Pri Vennapusa, Pra Vennapusa, and sophomore Christian Fletcher) won their matches, although the doubles teams had a tougher time. First doubles junior Josh Bricknell and junior Tom Kennon and second doubles freshman Brian King and junior Ben von Stetten lost their bouts.
The second match of the season at home against Wachusett wasn’t as solid for the Chieftains. They lost 4-1 with only Pra Vennapusa at second singles taking his Mountaineer opponent. “Our first five games are against tough league teams,” said Mason. “It doesn’t start easy.”
Mason usually keeps parts of the doubles line-ups fluid to start the season, letting players try new pairings. Thanks to the weather, Mason didn’t have a lot of time to test combinations or for new pairs to develop a rhythm. “We weren’t able to have a lot of challenge matches,” Mason explained. “So, the doubles haven’t had a lot of time together. That will come with time,” she said.
Mason said her 13-man squad has a depth of talent from the underclassmen. In addition to freshman King, she had four other freshmen make the team – Nathan Campbell, Mike Fulciniti, Dan Kilkenny and Brendan Mullen. Two seniors round out the squad – Joel Sharin and Sorin Vatasiou.
New teams, new courts and new combinations provide challenges on and off the courts for the state finalist Nashoba Chieftains. Mason said she’s been realistic with the team, telling them, “Play your best, work hard. You’re not going to win every point, but try to win more,” she said.