, Gloucester, MA

April 9, 2013

Boys Tennis Preview: Gloucester again looks strong despite coaching carousel

By Conor Walsh

---- — More often than not, stability breeds success.

That holds especially true in high school sports, where perennial success tends to follow teams with steady, established programs and coaches.

In that scope, the Gloucester boys tennis team breaks the mold, as despite being on their fourth coach in as many seasons, the Fishermen have been a strong team each year and look to continue that trend under first-year coach John Sperry this season.

With a new coach two seasons ago, the Fishermen captured an NEC Small title. A year ago, they piled up a 10-4 regular season record before being bounced in the first round of the Division 2 North tournament.

And while Sperry must take his team’s word for it, the Fishermen believe that they’re better this season than they were last spring.

“The kids have more experience than me with this team, but they’ve said that we look stronger than the previous team from last year,” Sperry said. “There’s a really nice group of kids. They’re all competitive and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

Sperry will lean on his trio of experienced senior tri-captains: John Perry (No. 1 singles) and the No. 1 doubles pairing of Chris Wile and Pat Kelly.

Behind them, the Fishermen will look to Michael Dosani and Victor Tinacka in the No. 2 and No. 3 singles spots, respectively, while seniors George Black and Cal Cosgrove will start the season at No. 2 doubles.

Sperry, however, is looking to create competition within his team and will employ a “ladder system” where reserves like junior Connor Adkins and sophomore Drew Muniz will be able to battle for a spot and likely force their way into the team’s lineup throughout the season.

The obvious hope is to keep a talented squad hungry and striving to improve. The goal? Another step ahead despite the program’s relative lack of stability of late.

With coach Rob Bilsbury entering his fifteenth season at the helm of the Manchester Essex boys tennis team, there’s been no such turnover for the Hornets.

Not surprisingly, Bilsbury’s extended tenure has come with its fair share of success. Last season, the Hornets battled to 11-7 in a strong Cape Ann League and charged to the semifinals of the Division 3 North tournament, where they ultimately fell to Austin Prep in the semifinals.

The Hornets have a solid core returning this season, and with that will be looking to take another step forward this year perhaps to a CAL Small title or a deeper run in the state tournament.

“I’m feeling good about the team,” Bilsbury said. “I’ve been coaching for 15 years and it’s definitely one of the more solid teams I’ve ever had.”

Manchester Essex appears to be dominant in singles with sophomore Mike Fuca, an All-CAL player a year ago, leading the way in the No. 1 slot. At No. 2 is senior co-captain Calvin Lamothe, another all-league player with enough talent to be in the top slot for many teams.

Talented seventh-grader Sam Girian will round out the Hornets’ singles rotation and a slew of talented players -- highlighted by juniors Seth Cohen and Jeff Durkin and co-captain Colin Babikian -- battling for doubles spots.

Bilsbury has his eyes set on a CAL title. That could be all-but decided by the end of the Hornets’ season-opener tomorrow at Hamilton-Wenham (3:30). The two teams have long battled for the top spot in the CAL Small. This year looks to be no different.

“There’s a pretty good chance that the first match of the season will be for the CAL title,” Bilsbury said. “We’ve been the top two teams in the Cape Ann small section for the past several years, so it’s a really big match. We’ve really been focusing on getting ready for this one.”

Gloucester :Last Year's Record: 10-5 (Lost to North Andover in Division 2 North First Round) Coach: John Sperry (First Season) Captains: John Perry, Sr.; Chris Wile, Sr.; Pat Kelly, Sr. Players to Watch: Michael Dosani; Victor Tinacka; George Black, Sr.; Cal Cosgrove, Connor Adkins, Jr.; Drew Muniz, Soph. Coach's Outlook: "The kids have more experience than me with this team, but they've said that we look stronger than the previous team from last year. There's a really nice group of kids. They're all competitive and it's been a lot of fun so far." Season Opener: Yesterday vs. Winthrop(forfeit win) Manchester Essex :Last Year's Record: 11-8 (Lost to Austin Prep in Division 3 North Semifinal) Coach: Rob Bilsbury (15th Season) Captains: Calvin Lamothe, Sr.; Colin Babikian, Sr. Players to Watch: Mike Fuca, Soph.; Sam Girian, 7th grade; Seth Cohen, Jr.; Jeff Durkin, Jr.; Josh Christopher, Sr. Coach's Outlook: "I'm feeling good about the team. I've been coaching for 15 years and it's definitely one of the more solid teams I've ever had." Season Opener: Tomorrow at Hamilton-Wenham (3:30)