Published in the April 8, 2019 edition.
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — Improving in sports is all about challenging yourself.
It’s a process that includes making sacrifices to see if you can be better than the day before.
Part of that process means practicing against more talented players. In high school tennis, that means contesting teammates who might have a higher role than you today.
In the Wakefield girls’ tennis program, that might even mean challenging your older sister.
The 2019 WMHS girls’ tennis team is focused on improving as they try to replace five of the varsity’s starting seven from last year’s senior-laden team.
The only two returners from that varsity lineup are sophomores Erica Pecjo and Hannah Guay who played second doubles together last season.
Pecjo is currently playing first singles for Wakefield while Guay is second singles…for now.
Wakefield head coach Kathy Healey encourages her players to embrace opportunities to improve in both practice and matches.
The Warriors opened their season on Wednesday against Middlesex League powerhouse Winchester and followed that up with a road match against Reading. Though Wakefield was swept 5-0 in both matches, the focus is on embracing those opportunities to get better, especially early in the season when the Warriors start their campaign against four strong programs in a row with Lexington and Burlington following their matches against Winchester and Reading.
“Like today against Winchester, I tell them it’s a great experience,” said Healey on Wednesday. “It’s always good to play people who are a little bit better than you because that makes you a better player.”
That starts in practice, where the Warriors have “challenge days” throughout the season, allowing for teammates to play each other for higher roles and in some cases for a spot on varsity.
“They can challenge one up, so second doubles can only challenge first doubles, first doubles can challenge third singles who can challenge second singles who can challenge first singles,” said Healey.
The benefits are two-fold. First, it gives anyone a chance to play varsity and that means positions are earned. Second, it improves everyone’s game. So long as the mentality is giving your best on challenge days, not so you can defeat your teammate, but so you can both truly get better.
That might make for some interesting car rides home for the King, Ogier and Koutroubis families as the Warriors have three sets of sisters this year.
Senior Jorie King, a first-year tennis player and freshman Annie King played doubles together on JV against Winchester. Juniors Effie Koutroubis and captain Marisa Ogier play together on first doubles. They both have sisters who are freshmen: Haley Ogier and Panagiota Koutroubis who both happened to play doubles together on JV Wednesday.
Whether or not the sisters will get to challenge each other in practice depends on how the rest of the roster shakes out. Playing at third singles is junior Kelly Hourihan. At second doubles are juniors Julia Carino and captain Sarah Margerison.
Players who will have a chance to jump up to varsity include senior Jocelyn Murray, juniors Riley Porter, Heather Owen, Basia Holowenczak, sophomores Meghan Lyle and Ava Licciardi and freshmen Ogier, King and Koutroubis along with Megan Cohen, Riley Suntken, Mia Dardis and Lisa Mouradian.
With so much youth and inexperience, coach Healey, who is assisted once again this year by her 90-year-old father Bill Healey (WHS ‘47) is focused on teaching the fundamentals.
“This is a big rebuilding year because we lost five varsity players but my dad and I are working with the kids everyday on drills, strokes, serves and fundamentals,” said Healey.
Not lost on coach Healey is what playing a sport should really mean. In addition to improving, building relationships and having memories that will last a lifetime, to coach Healey, playing tennis remains an outlet, especially for a team that typically has dedicated students juggling many responsibilities.
“At the beginning of practice we still do mindfulness and yoga and I teach them a different self defense technique each week. We practice it all week before tennis.”
“My girls are all honors and high honors students and they come out of school all stressed out so that’s why we do the mindfulness and yoga.”
For those of you worried about challenge days mixing with self defense, let’s just say this group won’t be practicing some of those moves after a disagreement over an out call. As is the case with fundamentals to tennis and yoga to leaving a stressful day at the high school behind, learning self defense is a life skill centered around being able to feel confident and safe in any environment.
“I use my platform as a coach to teach them self defense because I think it’s important for them to know how to defend themselves…not with other players!,” said Healey with a laugh. “Just for life in general.”
So long as the Warriors continue to challenge themselves they’ll find success on and off the court.