Heightened Competition: ME Tennis Programs Face Challenging Schedules in 2022


Despite facing strong opposition from the rest of the Cape Ann League Baker Division each spring, the Manchester Essex girls and boys tennis teams seem to put together excellent seasons year after year.

It was no different in 2021, with the girls going 12-1 during the regular season and making it all the way to the Div. 3 State Semi-Finals, while the boys finished 8-4 and bowed out in the first round of the tournament against Ipswich as a result of being without some key players for the crucial tournament game.

This year, both Hornets teams should once again be in the hunt for the CAL Baker Crown, but it’s the non-divisional matchups on the schedule that are noteworthy. The boys have already faced a tennis powerhouse in their season opener against St. John’s Prep and had Masconomet and Swampscott scheduled for this week, while the girls were slated to face NEC tennis standout Swampscott on April 14, with Austin Prep (April 20) and Newburyport (April 21) on the road next week. Both teams also face another tennis power in Marblehead later this season.

One of the reasons for the uptick in challenge in the non-conference schedule is a change to the postseason formula: The MIAA will now factor in strength-of-schedule for the first time this season to determine postseason qualifying and seeding, thus inspiring the coaches to work with Athletic Director Cameron Molinare to come up with matchups against some of the top programs on the North Shore, including some of the larger CAL schools not traditionally on the docket, such as Newburyport.

“When we got the schedule and met with the new AD early in the season, she thought and I think, ‘This is great, let’s upgrade the schedule and see where we stand,’” explains Manchester Essex girls tennis coach Ed Conway. “Let’s see where we stand against some of the larger schools and historically strong programs. It will be good for our team to give us a feel for what we’d be facing in the tournament and making us more tournament-ready when the time comes. It’s a nice change from just the CAL Baker, which is already strong enough as it is.”

The boys team played St. John’s in the opener and lost by a 4-1 margin, but the fact that the Hornets faced a team of this caliber could help later in the spring even in spite of the result.

“St. John’s Prep, Masco, Swampscott and Marblehead, those are all solid challenges for us,” explains ME boys tennis coach Rob Bilsbury. “We may not have as good a record at the end of the year, but we are hoping that with the new strength-of-schedule factor that playing teams like St. John’s will help us.”

Both teams are set up to not only qualify for, but also make a run in the tournament this year thanks to a healthy mix of returning talent and an infusion of new players looking to make their mark in 2022.

John Pope is the anchor for the boys team at first singles, Jack Cummins serves as the Hornets’ no. 2 singles player and Roemer deWitt is the team’s third-singles standout. Pope and deWitt are seniors and captains for the team, while Cummins has been a revelation as a freshman.

“He’s got a really nice game overall,” Bilsbury says of Cummins. “He moves well, attacks well, is steady from both sides.”

Senior captains provide experience at number one doubles, with the team leaning on the pairing of Owen Bappe and Remsen Demio. Senior Nick Macfarland and sophomore Charlie Virden have done well at second doubles so far this season, with a handful of other players able to step in and rotate into that spot if need be as the season goes on.

“There are a lot of other kids in the midst of it for the second doubles spot,” says Bilsbury. “There will be a lot of challenge matches, which is exciting. I love having that type of depth on the team because it makes practice more feisty.”

Conway also has a deep roster – a total of 26 players – to work with as he takes over for former coach John Driscoll as head coach for the girls’ team. Conway served as an assistant coach for the team for the last two years and is quite familiar with the players who help to make this one of the most successful programs in the sport, while former ME tennis standout Sarah Willwerth-Dyer takes over as jayvee/assistant coach.

Last year’s no. 2 doubles team has stepped up to fill in two of the three singles sports for the Hornets, with Emery Weber-Provost at number two singles and Vanessa Gregory at third singles. Sophie Zalosh takes over at first singles. All three singles players are juniors, which bodes well for this year and the next.

“All three are playing quite well,” says Conway. “It gives us quite the advantage, we like to step into the doubles matches and be able to seal the win for the day.”

Those doubles players pretty good, too. Parker Brooks and Gracie Susko return to the number one doubles spot in which they dominated in 2021, and serve as anchors for the team as well as team captains. Second doubles features a family connection – twin sisters Grayson and Sienna Crocker have looked strong in the spot so far, while also providing a jolt of youthful energy to this squad.

“They’ve got enough energy between them for the rest of us,” Conway says of the undefeated duo. “It takes them about one second to get out on the court.”

Sophie’s sister, Nina Zalosh, Callista Lai, Alexa Hano and Molly McShane also provide experience and depth for this squad.

After a 1-1 start to the season, the boys team was slated to play Rockport (4/11), Masco (4/12) and Swampscott (4/14) this week, with Amesbury (4/27) and North Reading on the docket next week. The girls started 2-0 and were set to face Triton (4/13) and Swampscott (4/14) this week, with Austin Prep (4/20) and Newburyport (4/21) next week.

sophie zalosh, john driscoll, ed conway, alexa hano, boys tennis coach, molly mcshane, jayvee/assistant coach, roemer dewitt, gracie susko, parker brooks, owen bappe, john pope, charlie virden, athletic director, manchester essex girls tennis coach, sienna crocker, vanessa gregory, rob bilsbury, nina zalosh, jack cummins, nick macfarland, cameron molinare, emery weber