— John McPhee
The Saugerties High boys’ tennis team is still in the early stages of its 2011 campaign, but it’s already got some catching up to do. Though most area programs faced the same weather-related practice issues, the Sawyers had two additional factors at play: the loss of most of last year’s starters to graduation for the first time in many years, and the introduction of a new head coach.
But Kim Cahill isn’t exactly a rookie skipper. Eight years ago, she helped start the JV tennis program in Kingston, and she played the sport at the USTA level—singles and doubles. Last fall, she worked with the Saugerties girls program.
“Becoming a head coach requires a little bit of preparation, but I felt that I stepped into it quite well,” Cahill said. “The girls were great, and anxious to be successful and do what it takes to get there.”
But coaching the boys has been a little different. For a start, the girls were able to get acquainted with their new coach in optimal tennis weather. The boys, on the other hand, haven’t even always been able to work on the courts.
“It was a little warmer last fall,” Cahill said.
The other hurdle the team has faced, is that…well…they’re boys.
“They’ve been accustomed to having a male coach for a long time,” Cahill said. “But they’ve done very well. I do know the game, and they can see that.”
Spencer Brandes, a senior captain playing his fourth year of varsity tennis, said the difference between his former coach and his new one has been noticeable.
“It’s a lot different, but in a good way,” he said. “Coach Cahill always keeps a positive outlook about everything and is very encouraging.”
Over the first two contests of the season, encouragement has been paramount. In the season opener on Wednesday, April 6, the Sawyers fell to visiting league powerhouse New Paltz 4-1, with only second doubles tandem Ryan Howard and Evan Smith, both seniors, emerging victorious. The pair ousted Greg Lee and Tucker Ozerchuck in a 7-6 (5), 6-4 win.
Two days later, Saugerties hit the road and looked more comfortable against Red Hook, though they lost 3-2. The pair of wins came in singles competition, with junior Justin Horvers beating Marcus Jones (6-4, 3-6, 7-6) and Brandes dispatching Jackie Cheng (6-4, 2-6, 7-5).
“We struggled against New Paltz, but we came close against Red Hook, “Cahill said, noting that she hopes the team will become more and more competitive as they grow more accustomed to their roles.
“We lost many seniors from last year, so a lot of the boys playing singles were used to playing doubles,” Cahill said. “But they’ve stepped up very well. Many of the matches on Friday went to three sets.”
Brandes was hopeful but not overconfident. Asked how far he expected Saugerties to go, he didn’t pull any punches.
“As a team who lost almost all of the starters from last year, not too far,” he said. “There is a lot of room for improvement.”
Brandes and Horvers are joined in the singles starting lineup by senior Alex Mendes. The doubles teams will most typically see junior Tom D’Elia paired with sophomore Dale Maier as well as the senior tandem of Howard and Smith.
The exhibition players on the team include junior Adam Blank and freshmen Connor Coughlin, Corey Curran, Joe Gessner, Avery Herzog, Kenny Sorenson, Aaron Turner, Anthony Williams and Leon Lozano. The tennis team doesn’t cut anyone who joins, and is open to pulling any member of the exhibition unit to play in regular competition: Sorenson was paired with D’Elia against Red Hook, for example.
Though there are always rivalries in high school sports, Cahill said she’s not yet attuned to how that works in Saugerties. Instead, she wants her team to focus on each match as it comes.
“I have no clue of what I have coming ahead,” Cahill said. “It’s uncharted waters for me. I’ve talked to (her players) about it, but every team is going to be tough. I think I’ve focused more on being prepared, staying focused. They may have in the back of their minds something, but we’re going to take it a match at a time.”
The Sawyers won’t have a rematch against Red Hook, Brandes’ rival selection, unless they meet in the postseason. Friday’s tip was the lone matchup between the two teams on the regular season schedule.
Brandes said he takes every match seriously, not only because of his love of the game, but also because it very nearly didn’t happen at all.
“It means a lot to play tennis, as well as be the captain of the team for SHS, especially since it was almost cut this year,” he said, adding that even though he’s a senior, he doesn’t expect to hang up his racket at the end of the season.
“Tennis is a lifetime sport that you can play until you die,” he said. “It’s a great way to get exercise and your anger out.”