Nashoba Boys Racket Up 4 Wins

Published in the April 16, 2008 issue of The Stow Independent

by Jordana Bieze Foster

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The Nashoba Regional boys' tennis team started the 2008 season with four consecutive victories, but head coach Brenda Mason wasn't about to get too comfortable. The real test for the team will be this week, with matches scheduled against the only three teams that bested the Chieftains during the regular season a year ago.

Nashoba only lost four matches in 2007 en route to a second-place finish in the Mid-Wach B league and a first-round bye in the playoffs. One of those losses came against Groton-Dunstable, one against St. Peter-Marian, and two against eventual Central Division 1 champion Westboro; this week, the Chieftains were slated to face those same three teams on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Also on the schedule was a Tuesday clash with Bromfield, which qualified for the Central Division 2 semifinals a year ago.

It's an intimidating stretch, but Mason said she was looking forward to the challenge.

“There's nothing better than playing a better team,” she said. “It makes you play better. And most of the kids do rise to the occasion.”

Adding to the pressure is the fact that the Chieftains' lineup is still very much in flux. Because the weather has kept the team off the courts for much of the early season – Mason said it took two weeks for the ice on the third court to melt completely – it's been difficult to find time for enough challenge matches to accurately determine player positions.

Stow junior and team captain Jeff Stefanis started the season in the first singles slot but has since swapped places with newcomer Brent Walkoff, a sophomore whose family relocated to Bolton from Pittsburgh. Walkoff, who plays competitive tennis year-round, did not lose a game in his first four matches at second singles. Mason expects the two to continue to challenge each other throughout the season, much as Stefanis did last season with Matt Powers of Stow, who graduated last summer.

“Jeff's used to this,” she said.

Jeff Stokes, a junior from Stow who played second doubles last season, will battle junior Sam Camp of Bolton for the third singles position; the other will join senior Dan Piazza of Lancaster on the first doubles team. Second doubles, Mason said, is completely up in the air at this point. Senior Ian Stevenson of Stow, junior Bob Savino of Bolton, junior Nick Chin of Lancaster, and junior VJ Garge of Stow all logged time at second doubles during the first four matches of the season.

“We have probably five people that are really working for that second doubles spot,” she said. “I could put any of them in there and they could do a good job at second doubles. It's the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night, but it's a good problem to have. I just wish we had more than seven starting positions.”

New to the team this year are junior Mike Sestito (a former baseball player), sophomore Mike Cummings, and freshman David Monat, all from Stow. Mason said she could envision any of them scoring points for the Chieftains as the season progresses.

“The whole team has already improved so much in just the three weeks we've been playing, it's incredible,” she said. “Some of them haven't seen a racket since last spring, so it takes some time.”

As team captain, third-year player Stefanis sets a positive example for the other players, Mason said.

“He's got an all around good game, and such a positive attitude,” she said. “He had a long three-setter the other day (a 3-6, 7-6(7-3), 6-3 victory over Carl Barnard of West Boylston), and I know it was sheer willpower that carried him through. He can be down 5-1 and never give up.”

Ideally, Mason would like the Chieftains to improve upon last year's playoff showing, which amounted to a disappointing 3-2 loss to Quaboag in a second-round match that was interrupted by weather. To that end, she said, two areas of focus this season will be unforced errors and double faults.

“We certainly would like to turn around those four losses from last season,” she said.

Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239