High five for Mounties
Win streak helps girls’ tennis team net 8-3 record, hold share of third place in competitive Division I
By Eric Benevides - Valley Breeze
WOONSOCKET – With a little more than a week remaining in the Division I girls’ tennis regular season, only one thing remains certain: East Greenwich and four-time state champion La Salle Academy are still the teams to beat.
And while both undefeated teams, which will finally battle each other next Tuesday in Providence, are expected to be the top two seeds in the state playoffs that will begin on Oct. 23, there is a small group of teams jockeying for a top-four spot in the 14-team standings.
One of those teams is Mount Saint Charles, which recently put together a five-match win streak that not only was its longest in nearly a decade, but also helped the Mounties enter Thursday afternoon’s D-I action with an 8-3 record that puts them in a tie for third place with Barrington and gives them a half-game cushion over Moses Brown (7-3) in the standings.
Unfortunately for the Mounties, it was the Quakers who bused to Woonsocket and ended their win streak last Thursday afternoon, as the Quakers were able to pull out a pair of close victories in the second and third doubles matches and escape with a 5-2 win. But Mounties bounced back from that defeat to not only put away Smithfield, 5-2, on Tuesday, but also lose just 18 games in blanking Toll Gate, 7-0, the following afternoon.
Prior to their win streak, the Mounties were shut out by La Salle, 7-0, and suffered a 6-1 loss to East Greenwich, but aside from those matches, they’ve been competitive with the rest of their schedule, including Barrington, which they topped by a 4-3 score in their season opener.
“Nothing’s been easy certainly,” said MSC head coach Richard Lawrence. “I’d love to finish in the top four, so we’ll see what happens.”
Lawrence, who directed the Mounties to five state championships (and eight appearances in the finals) in the 2000s before retiring as the head coach in 2011, returned to the helm after last season’s head coach, Sean McClelland, decided to become an assistant after his family welcomed its third child.
It was a move that Lawrence completely understood. He had coached both the boys’ and girls’ teams for a number of seasons, but when his youngest son, Jacob, was born 18 years ago, he decided to step aside as the boys’ coach and continue coaching the girls.
Speaking of Jacob, who graduated from MSC this year and is now a member of the Assumption College men’s tennis team, Lawrence, who had served as a practice coach for the girls’ and boys’ teams the past few years, had been able to find the time to watch Jacob play on the school’s boys’ soccer team in the fall and not worry about the day-to-day demands as a head coach. With Jacob off to college, the decision to become a head coach again became an easier one.
And while he’s switching roles with McClelland, he also “flip-flopped” his role as an athletic director four months ago. With Ray Leveille becoming the school’s first full-time A.D. and Lawrence serving as the senior athletic director, Lawrence, who also took over as the boys’ head coach this past spring, found himself with more time to easily handle both coaching roles.
“The level of responsibility I had (as an athletic director) is certainly not there,” he added. “That’s on Ray, and that’s also allowed me to be able to do this because it’s difficult to be both a head coach and an athletic director. Not many (athletic directors) in this state are coaches.”
Above all, Lawrence, who is in his 50th year of service at MSC and teaches AP English classes, still loves the sport and teaching it to his team, and he’s truly enjoyed coaching what he believes is a special group of players.
“They’re very easy to work with,” he admitted. “I can’t say enough about all the girls. We have 15 on the varsity team and they’re all great. They make (coaching) pleasurable and they make it easy.”
Seven starters from last year’s squad that returned to the state quarterfinals are back, including last season’s first singles player, senior Isabella Coppolino, pictured above, who was a Second-Team All-State selection as a junior.
Junior Ally Romano and senior Maggie Kinnear, who were the Mounties’ first doubles team last season, are now respectively the second and fourth singles players, and senior Erin McWhinnie, who played second doubles last year, is at third singles. Kinnear currently owns a 9-2 record that includes an eight-match win streak.
In doubles, last year’s third doubles team, junior Alex Wyatt and sophomore Piper O’Connell, is now the number one squad. Juniors Emily Graham, who saw some time in the lineup last season, and Isabella Chiodo comprise the second doubles team, and senior Madison Cataldo and junior Shivanni Gopal make up the third team. The first and second doubles team are 8-3, and the third doubles squad is 8-2.
“We have pretty good balance,” said Lawrence. “I think our doubles have been very successful this year, and we’re particularly successful in the middle of the singles lineup at (number) three and four. They have done well.”
The Mounties will wrap up its regular season next week with matches against Cumberland (on Oct. 16 at Tucker Field) and Cranston West (two days later at home). It’s been six seasons since the Mounties owned a top-four seeding in the postseason, and in that magical 2012 season, Mount, which was 9-3, stunned one-loss East Greenwich in the semifinals before losing to La Salle in the finals.
MSC sweeps Westerly
By Branden Mello - Woonsocket Call
WOONSOCKET — Legendary Mount St. Charles tennis coach Richard Lawrence coached five girls team state champions, a pair of boys team champions and a host of individual champions, but the current crop of Mounties never learned under his tutelage.
Lawrence, who hadn’t been the head coach of a team since he was in charge of the girls team in 2012, brought back one of his time-tested methods when he took over the boys program in the spring.
“There are five elements of successful tennis in high school and if you believe in them and follow them, you will be successful,” Lawrence said Thursday afternoon. “I start the season by getting the most athletic person – in the spring it was my son [and current Assumption tennis player] Jacob – and I line them up on the outside line against a freshman or someone who just joined them for a race.
“I’d ask the freshman the first principle of successful tennis, he’d tell me and I’d move him up to the next line on the doubles alley. I’d go to the second, third, fourth and fifth and if he got all the answers – he did because I told him what they were before this started – I’d move him up. They’d race and the freshman would win. It was just a metaphor to show the kids if they embraced what I’m teaching them, they’ll win the race.”
Through the first seven matches of this season, many of the Mount girls are buying into Lawrence’s method and the Mounties are winning matches at a pace they haven’t won at since they reached the state final in 2012. Thursday afternoon against visiting Westerly, the Mounties had no trouble picking up their fifth victory of the Division I season.
The match was over before the second and third doubles teams could play a game because the singles quartet of Isabella Coppolino, Ally Romano, Erin McWhinnie an Maggie Kinnear combined to lose just 14 games in their straight-set victories. Mount also dominated the doubles matches to secure the 7-0 Division I victory.
“We’ve lost to La Salle and East Greenwich and those teams are elite,” said Lawrence, who wouldn’t divulge his five elements to success. “I’m hoping that we can find our way and get there. We’re putting a lot of emphasis on the doubles. We were somewhat competitive with those teams in the doubles matches, so we’re focusing on that. We obviously emphasize everything, but we feel we can take advantage of the doubles matches.”
Mount St. Charles (5-2 Division I) has the luxury of returning its No. 1 singles player, Coppolino, who was a second-team All-State selection last season after reaching the second round of the state tournament. The Cranston native and president of the Mount student body picked up her third win of the season Thursday, besting junior Gianna Ferraro 6-3, 6-3.
Coppolino knew Ferraro had dangerous ground strokes, so the Mount senior tried to keep Ferraro guessing by changing the angle, speed and spin of her shots.
“I tried to mess with her game and change it up a little bit,” Coppolino said. “I tried to locate the ball a lot. I knew she had a really good forehand, so I tried to keep the ball away from that. The big thing for me is to stay mentally tough. I know I don’t act out on the court, but I need to focus in my head and not let a point get to me if I make a mistake.”
Coppolino’s victory over Ferraro clinched the match because her three singles teammates had easy afternoons. Romano, a talented junior who will be looking to make the state tournament at next week’s D-I qualifying tournament, defeated sophomore Lilly Tria, 6-2, 6-3. Kinnear, a senior, produced a 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 4 singles, while McWhinnie earned a 6-1, 6-1 win.
The No. 1 doubles team of Piper O’Connell and Alex Wyatt earned a 6-0, 6-1 win, while the No. 2 doubles team of Emily Graham and Isabella Chiodo earned a 6-1, 6-1 win. The No. 3 doubles team Tanvi Bhatia and Marykate Tillinghast won 10-6 to close out the afternoon.
Mount is busy next week with matches against Prout Tuesday and Moses Brown Thursday before the qualifying tournament over the weekend.
“This is a great group of girls and really nice kids.” Lawrence said. “They’re so easy to work with, I’m lucky to be with this group. These girls understand the principles I’m trying to teach them.”