Underclassmen answer call in starting roles

JULIA MCLAUGHLIN has been a big part of the Melrose Lady Raider tennis team, earning a spot in second singles. (Donna Larsson photo) 

JULIA MCLAUGHLIN has been a big part of the Melrose Lady Raider tennis team, earning a spot in second singles. (Donna Larsson photo)

MELROSE — Despite several obstacles in their early season, the Melrose High School girls’ tennis team is working hard and improving with each match played. At the start of every season the goal is to make the tournament but when their #1 and #2 singles players sustained season-ending injuries earlier this spring, the goal became to persevere, improve and win a match or two.

Having to step up to play #1 singles in an incredibly competitive league is freshman Lily Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has the responsibility of facing the best player on every team in the Middlesex League. “She is young, hungry, a fighter and she is learning how to play a match against some stiff competition,” says her coach Deb Deacon. “Lily has beautiful ground strokes from the baseline and she is now learning how important strategizing during a match is to win. She is also figuring out through experience that her mental game is as important as her physical game.”

Fitzgerald has held her own in all of her matches and she pushed to three sets vs. Wakefield before falling 6-4, 2-6, 3-6 against a senior opponent. Another great match was against Watertown with a comfortable first serve and an ability to move her opponent around the court before falling 4-6, 2-6.

Stepping up to play in the second singles spot, moving from a confident doubles position, is sophomore Julia McLaughlin. McLaughlin also has a tough challenge as she faces the second best player on every team in the Middlesex League. “Julia is working hard and learning more about her tennis game as she strategizes in an effort to improve her game,” says her coach.  McLaughlin played well vs. Wakefield in a recent match before falling 1-6, 0-6 and also against Watertown where she fell 1-6, 2-6.

Third singles has called upon another freshman, Emmah Bates who is facing strong and steady opponents. “She has been taking some tennis lessons to get ready for the season but I am sure she didn’t plan on being thrust into a varsity position so quick,” says her coach. “She is maintaining a positive attitude and is working on improving her skills each match.”

Playing in the first doubles position are “veterans” junior Hannah Butler and sophomore Olivia Zibaitis. This dynamic duo faces the best doubles teams around the league and are playing well, coming together and learning strategies to play solid tennis. In the match versus Watertown, they played a tough, three set match before falling in the third set tie breaker 5-7.  “They will continue to work together for the rest of the season and I am confident they will win some match play,” says Deacon.

Second doubles team of Miranda Lombardo and Jessica Doherty will be working together to stand strong. “Jess has been our ‘utility’ player moving from partner to partner as we tried to figure out the best combination of players,” says her coach. “She is working hard and her game is steadily improving.” Although the two fell to Watertown in two sets 1-6, 3-6 their coach points out they are learning to read their opponents, find their weakness and capitalize on scoring points.

According to Deacon, the team has a focus of improvement this year and not of wins and losses. “We are incredibly young which means we have lots to learn and there is always room for improvement. With the positive attitudes we have on the team, I am confident we will continue to improve and things will keep moving in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, it’s been an incredibly busy week for the Lady Raider with matches scheduled every day from Monday – Thursday this week. After a well earned day off Friday, May 8, the girls return to action on Monday when they host Wilmington at 3:30 p.m. at Crystal Street Court.