Super Girls OR Grand Finale
It may have taken them longer than they had hoped, but Manchester Essex girls tennis team delivered on the promise of a talented team poised to do great things with their 3-2 win over Cohasset in the Div. 3 MIAA State Semifinals at St. John’s Prep on Monday.
The win propelled the team to the state finals, which was slated either for June 29 or 30 (depending on weather and getting a waiver from the MIAA for a one-day bye to rest before the biggest match of the year) against Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) from Marlboro.
The victory over Cohasset on June 28, however was a marker for a team that has excelled all season (the Hornets went 12-1 this spring) and then rolled through the postseason with wins over North Reading (a 3-2 win on June 21), Swampscott and Austin Prep (both by a 4-1 score). The win over Austin Prep gave the Hornets the MIAA Div. III North crown, and propelled them to Monday’s matchup with Cohasset, a game that was the culmination of a long journey.
“They walked into a situation where they had some big shoes to fill,” explains ME girls tennis coach John Driscoll. “Last year, the team that didn’t get a chance to play was loaded with a lot of seniors, and the expectation was that they were the favorites to win the season, so this team had something to prove. We play in a very tough conference, and that was something that became very clear to me my first time through. It fells validating that they worked so hard – some of these girls have been playing since the seventh grade on the tennis time – and made it to this point.”
The match was moved from Manchester Essex to St. John’s because the private school afforded the opportunity for all five matches to be played at once, obtaining a final result as quickly as possible to escape the 90-plus-degree heat. In most previous matches, Driscoll has sent out his first singles and both doubles to play on the three courts available at MERHS, figuring these top performers would be the determining factor in obtaining victory. That scenario played out once again against Cohasset, with Stephanie Pratt winning 6-0, 6-0 at first singles – “We’ve never lost a match in which Stephanie’s won,” says Driscoll – while the number one doubles team of Parker Brooks and Gracie Susko and number two doubles of sophomore standouts Vanessa Gregory and Emily Weber-Provost all picked up wins and turned the tide in favor of the Hornets. The win propelled the team to their biggest contest of the year, the state finals. While Jessie Miller and Lilly Coote did not pick up points in this one, they have been instrumental to the team’s success all spring at second and third singles.
“I realized this weekend that historically when Manchester has won the North Sectionals, we’ve won the state finals,” says Driscoll. “I told the girls that afterward, that’s the precedent for you.”
This could be good news for a team that has gone above and beyond this season when it comes to living up to expectations.
Girls Lax Reaches Div. 2 North Finals
The girls tennis team wasn’t the only local squad to make an impressive postseason run this spring: The girls lacrosse team finished the regular season 7-4 and then kept things going in the tournament, beating Bishop Fenwick, Essex Aggie and Swampscott to reach the Div. 2 North finals. While the Hornets lost a tough one to Newburyport – ME lost by a 17-2 score to Newburyport on June 27, thus ending their season – there were some positives that coach Nan Gorton says the team took away from the loss.
“We needed to get a quick start, and unfortunately that did not happen,” explains Gorton. “But the girls continued to work hard. We started to break down each quarter and focus on two or three things that we could do more effectively. But mostly, we had an opportunity to define ourselves and our characters as people. How are we going to react to what was happening, essentially losing? We never gave up, but there was a point when we knew it was not going to be our day. And I am proud to say the girls held their heads high, congratulated their opponents and showed great class and integrity. They represented themselves, their school, and their community extremely well. Manchester Essex should be very proud of them, too.”
The loss was an anomaly for a team that looked like it could do anything in the games, leading up to the North Finals, especially on offense: The Hornets outscored their opponents leading up to the final game by a 45-16 margin.
“The tournament in general was fantastic,” says Gorton. “We came together even more as a team, and our score sheet reflected that. Every game we had multiple scorers and more assists than is typical in lacrosse. Each player contributed to the final score. In lacrosse, that can only happen on a team where everyone believes in each other and works together.”
Like many other teams who played this spring, this was a memorable season for more reasons than simply what happened on the field.
“We had a lot of fun this season,” explains Gorton. “I think everyone who got a chance to play, whatever sport they play, will remember this season forever. There were so many unknowns to start, so much adversity to overcome, so we were simply thankful to be on the field. And with each passing day, restrictions eased, and ‘normal’ got closer. It wasn’t perfect, and there was disappointment on and off the field, but we will focus on the good.”
The girls’ lacrosse team lost six seniors to graduation this spring: Lily Athanas, Gg Huet, Grace Gist, Sophia Barrett, Faith Burroughs and Bradlee Brooks.
“Because of each of them and the legacy they leave us, we will return a team that chooses to work together and play the game aggressively with class and appreciation for our teammates and our opponents,” Gorton says of her outgoing seniors.
First Round Blues For Boys Tennis, Baseball
A few other Manchester Essex teams qualified and opted into postseason play this spring but were knocked out early on in the tourney.
The ME baseball team went 6-3 over their last nine regular season games to get to 7-8 and qualify as a five seed in the Div. 4 North tournament. Unfortunately, the Hornets’ late season-momentum couldn’t carry them past Saint Joseph Preparatory High School in their first action of the postseason, falling by a 1-0 score to St. Joe’s on June 23.
The Manchester Essex boys’ tennis team also faced an early end to their postseason, falling by a 4-1 score to fellow Cape Ann League foe Ipswich in the first round of the Div. 3 North finals on June 18. The Hornets were shorthanded in this one but did their best to keep the season going after finishing the spring with an 8-4 record.
“The boys played excellent tennis against a solid Ipswich team, who is very well-coached,” explains Manchester Essex boys tennis coach Rob Bilsbury. “Due to prior obligations, we were a bit undermanned going into the match with our one, three and four unable to play, but it was joyous to see the team rally together and adopt a next man up strategy.”
There were some positive takeaways from this one despite the loss. Roemer de Widt played Ipswich’s top singles player to a three-set loss, and Sam Kenney played well despite having to play at second singles for the first time in 2021. Remsen Demeo and Owen Bappe were stellar at first doubles, playing their best match of the season and winning in straight sets. Senior Emerson Kahle combined with Anton Westick in his first ever varsity game and played well, while Nick MacFarland also looked good at third singles.
“The big takeaway for the boys in this match is the understanding that we play hard every day in practice so that we are ready when we are called upon for varsity action at whatever position,” says Bilsbury. “The boys brought their best tennis at all new positions to give a true scare to a solid team despite missing some key players, and that is what being on a team is all about for me.”
The Hornets lost five seniors from this squad to graduation in the spring, but games such as the tournament loss give hope for what the team could accomplish next year. Manchester Essex will get back a number of solid players in 2022, including freshman and co-player of the year Pieter Breuker. Those young, returning players were able to learn the ropes from a senior leadership core that didn’t have the benefit of even playing during their junior seasons in 2020. The team will also benefit from younger players moving up to varsity who spent time with new junior varsity coach Barrett Alston.
“We were in excellent hands with these boys, and it showed when we would play a team twice in the season,” says Bilsbury. “First time through against Ipswich, we won, 3-2, in a nail-biter. Second time through, we won, 5-0. First time through against Hamilton Wenham, we lost, 4-1; second time through, we lost, 2-3, and had a legit shot of taking the match. The senior leadership had us practicing hard every day and the results showed.”