Published in the June 13, 2018 edition


READING — The improbable run continues.

The sixth seeded girls’ tennis team (16-4) punched its ticket to a fifth straight Division 3 North finals appearance after upsetting second seed Austin Prep 3-2 during a three-hour semifinals match on June 8. The Pioneers have advanced to the North Sectional Finals 26 times in the last 38 years.

“This is one of the reasons why I continue to coach,” said Pioneers head coach Craig Stone following the match. “It’s the adrenaline. I was as pumped up as they are and they were the ones on the court. It is wins like this that make it so exciting and important not only for me but for them as well.”

The Pioneers defeated Austin Prep during last year’s Division 3 North finals.

With the match tied 2-2, the second doubles tandem featuring sophomores Celeste Joly and Claire Yang were able to pull out a three-set victory over senior Jackie Chouinard and sophomore Mia Bramante.

CAPTAIN Alexa Vittiglio won her first singles match in two sets during the girls’ tennis team’s 4-1 victory over Swampscott in the Division 3 North quarterfinals on June 6. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

Joly and Yang secured a 6-3 victory during the first set, but fell 4-6 during the second set. With the season on the line, Joly and Yang fought tooth and nail during the third set and came out on top 6-4.

“When we played them the first time, Celeste and Claire won in straight sets,” said Stone. “We played indoors and they played a different team than today. When they rolled in the first, I thought this was going to go straight sets. Austin Prep was able to scratch out the second. I was hoping they would get out of the gate quickly in the third, and they played solid.”

The first doubles tandem featuring sophomore Gillian Skelley and freshman Emma Gallucci defeated sophomores Jenna Costello and Mia Ham in two sets, 7-5, 6-3.

“Coming into this match, I thought we had the edge at third singles and second doubles,” said Stone. “I said to myself ‘if they can beat our first doubles team, they deserve to win.’ Gillian and Emma are 13-2 together. They are really tough and compliment each other very well. Gillian has great hands and a good feel for the game, and Emma is the hammer out there. If you give Emma anything above the net, you better run for your life.”

Senior Bela Ferreira cruised past third singles counterpart Danielle Abennour in straight sets, 6-0, 6-0. The match lasted 40 minutes.

“As I always say, Bela is a mechanic out there,” said Stone.

Captain Alexa Vittiglio lost her second singles match to junior Silvanna Salines in two sets, 0-6, 6-7 (5).

“Alexa got rolled by Silvanna when we played indoors against Austin Prep,” said Stone. “But outside is a whole different match. You have got the elements and the perspectives are different. Alexa was a trooper. She was the better athlete out there, but Silvanna had too much firepower in the end.”

Freshman Megan Nevils was forced to retire during first singles due to suffering from tendinitis in her wrist. Nevils lost the first set 1-6 before retiring in the second. She faced junior Marie-Elena Gerety.

Stone noted both Joly and Nevils have been suffering from tendinitis.

“It hurts to hit a tennis ball,” said Stone. “We went through the warm-up, did the taping, the Ibuprofen and the whole bit. They wanted to go. Sometimes when you get to these matches, the adrenaline allows you to get through it. We are better with both of them in the lineup. They showed a lot of mental toughness and true grit.”

Stone attributed the Pioneers’ unexpected run to the Division 3 North finals to a talented and hard working team that is willing to learn and grow.

“The practices have been a lot more structured and a lot more strategy based,” said Stone. “I have put more emphasis on stroke and technique. All 15 of the players on varsity have been very receptive and very coachable. They get along so well.”

Defeats Swampscott

The Pioneers defeated third seed Swampscott 4-1 in the Division 3 North quarterfinals on June 6.

Vittiglio started at first singles and won her match in two sets, 6-3, 6-4.

“We were forced to play without Nevils because of tendinitis of the wrist,” said Stone. “Vittiglio was bumped up to first singles again, lost the first game, jumped ahead and led the rest of the way. The second set followed a similar pattern, and Vittiglio serving for the match at 5-4 closed it out.”

Gallucci got the start at second singles and came out on top in three sets. After losing the first set 4-6, Gallucci won the second set 6-2 and prevailed 6-2 during the third set.

“Emma played a little tentatively in the first set, then re-captured the form that has entertained the crowd, combining a devastating first serve with penetrating ground strokes,” said Stone.

Ferreira won her third singles match in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2.

“Bela battled from the baseline once more, a style we have all become very familiar with, and destroyed another opponent with her consistency,” said Stone.

Skelley and Joly pulled out a two-set victory during first doubles, prevailing 6-1, 6-2.

“Skelley and Joly, paired for the second time this season, won in convincing fashion, leading in both sets throughout the match,” said Stone.

Yang and senior captain Makayla Maffeo lost their second doubles match in two sets, 0-6, 5-7.

“Maffeo and Yang got off to a slow start, but battled back in the second and almost forced a tiebreaker, but could not prevail,” said Stone.

Stone commended the Pioneers’ performance against The Big Blue.

“With adversity comes maturity,” said Stone. “Our young and inexperienced team that started at the beginning of the season has matured into a confident and successful team that can exceed expectations and accept new challenges. Today was another example of that.”

The Pioneers’ victory over Swampscott was Stone’s 600th girls’ tennis coaching victory. Stone’s current coaching record for girls’ tennis is 601-91 and his wrestling record is 537-341-9.

“It makes me think back over the years to all the quality student-athletes that I have coached that have allowed me to have such a successful career, and how important it was for them to make Lynnfield tennis a priority in their lives both during the season and out of season,” said Stone about earning his 600th career victory. “In addition, the support that our program has received from the parents, the community and the administration has also played an important role in establishing the tradition of excellence that we try to achieve each season.”