By Conor Walsh
---- — All things considered, the Manchester Essex girls tennis team probably didn’t need any help.
Two years removed from a Division 3 State Championship and a year off a 17-2 campaign, the Hornets enter this season with just as much firepower returning as they’ve grown accustomed to.
Without senior Brittany Collens’ return, they’d probably still be among the state’s Division 3 favorites. With the New Mexico State-bound star, who hasn’t played with the Hornets since her freshman season, rejoining the team, Manchester Essex’s season appears about as close to state-title-or-bust as a high school season can get.
“The last couple years, the team hasn’t had very many losses,” first-year coach Phil Logsdon. “Very strong team, and with the three great captains and Brittany Collens coming back, all four are great leaders for the team and can really make a difference in bringing the team together.”
Collens, a gifted tournament player who’s spent the past few years training heavily at the Manchester Athletic Club, will assume the No. 1 singles spot for the Hornets in the fall.
The crazy thing is that she’s bumping junior co-captain Michelle Fuca, who’s been dominant in the No. 1 slot for the past three years for the Hornets, down to No. 2, only further establishing the team’s dominance.
Throw in fellow co-captains Kendall McCormick (No. 3 singles), Rachel Daley (No. 1 doubles) and newcomer Chanel Bullock, a seventh-grader who’ll likely play doubles, and a traditional powerhouse looks as strong as ever.
“We’ve got some great returning players, and throw a great tournament player like Brittany Collens into the lineup, this team looks very solid,” Logsdon said.
Elsewhere in the area, the Rockport girls tennis squad looks to be pushing back toward success after a disappointing 4-10 campaign last season.
For the Vikings, they’re just ready for some good weather to really get into the swing of things.
Coach Bill Sclafani has had his squad outside for much of the spring while other Rockport teams have practiced indoors, so the Vikings will be prepared.
But this year’s particularly inclement early-spring weather has made it tough for the team to truly get into the feel of the game.
Either way, Sclafani said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that his team has the chops to make a stride forward. Led by co-captain seniors Evan Weinstein and Krysia Strumpf and sisters Abby and Megan Hood, the squad appears to have the talent to deal with its graduation losses and move ahead.
“I’d like us to be better than we were last year, but I’m not sure if it’s going to happen because we lost four seniors last year, so we lost a lot of leadership,” Sclafani said. “We’re going to have girls that haven’t played much tennis step up and fill shoes, but we’ve got some girls on this team who are athletes and are competitive. We’ve got a shot.”
Finally, in Gloucester, second-year coaches Mary Ann DeLouise and Lynne Salah are hoping that extending their “no-cut” policy will start to pay dividends this season.
The Fishermen struggled last year, but they’ll again carry 22-23 players for the season.
It certainly creates more work for the team’s coaches. The hope, though, is that it will create depth.
Gloucester will be led by tri-captains Kim Foster, Jill MacDonald and Corinne DeLouise. With a fair amount of graduation losses, the rest of the lineup hasn’t been set yet.
The hope, however, is that the depth created from the team’s big roster will help expedite the rebuilding process.
“For the second year in a row, we did a no-cut team,” DeLouise said. “It makes it a little bit more difficult for Coach Salah and myself, but it builds depth. We’re already seeing the benefits from doing it last year. Now we’re just ready to play and the team’s working hard and getting ready.”
Gloucester :Coaches: Mary Ann DeLouise and Lynne Salah (Second Season) Captains: Kim Foster, Sr.; Jill MacDonald, Jr.; Corinne DeLouise, Jr. Players to Watch: With a no-cut policy and a slew of holes left from graduation, the team is still hashing out its lineup before the season opener. Coach's Outlook: "For the second year in a row we did a no cut team. Twenty-two or 23 girls. It makes it a little bit more difficult for Coach Salah and myself, but it builds depth. We already see the benefits from doing it last year, now we're ready to play and the team's working hard and getting ready." Season Opener: Monday at Winthrop (4:30) Manchester Essex :Coach: Phil Logsdon (First Season) Captains: Michelle Fuca, Jr.; Kendall McCormick, Jr.; Rachel Daley, Jr. Players to watch: Brittany Collens, Sr.; Chanel Bullock, 7th grade. Coach's Outlook: "The last couple years, the team hasn't had very many losses. Very strong team, and with the three great captains and Brittany Collens coming back, all four are great leaders for the team and can really make a difference in bringing the team together." Season Opener: Tuesday at Boston Latin (3:30) Rockport :Coach: Bill Sclafani (Second Season) Captains: Eva Weinstein, Sr.; Krysia Strumpf, Sr. Players to Watch: Abby Hood, Jr.; Megan Hood, Fr. Coach's Outlook: "I'd like us to be better than we were last year, but I'm not sure if it's going to happen because we lost four seniors last year, so we lost a lot of leadership. I'm cautiously optimistic that we're going to be better than last year, we're going to have to have girls that haven't played much tennis step up and fill those shoes, but we've got some girls on this team who are athletes and are competitive. We've got a shot." Season Opener: Wednesday vs. Lynnfield (3:30)