NRHS Girls' Tennis Has Eye on the Prize

Published in the April 23, 2008 issue of The Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster

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Sure, the camouflage t-shirts are eye-catching, but the statement being made this season by the Nashoba Regional girls' tennis team isn't limited to fashion.

The Chieftains are off to a 5-2 start, with a 5-1 record in the Mid-Wach B league that's currently good enough for second place behind undefeated Westboro, and head coach Dan Spedding thinks the team is actually better than its record indicates. Spedding, however, subscribes to the theory that—even though a win in early April technically has the same value as a win in late May—there's something to be said for peaking at the right time.

“To a degree, it doesn't really matter what happens in the beginning of the season. You just have to feel things out and get the players ready to peak toward the end of the season,” he said. “The goal for us is to win districts. These matches we're playing now are just little steps—sometimes forward and sometimes back—on the way to that goal.”

If that doesn't happen, it won't be for a lack of effort. Whether it's the dedicated intensity of those who play tennis year-round, or the multi-sport jocks who bring the aggressiveness of a soccer match to their tennis play, Spedding says nobody works harder than the Chieftains in practice.

Which brings us to the camouflage t-shirts. As stylish as Nashoba's regular tennis dresses are, it's the shirts, he said, that really reflect the “boot camp mentality” of his team.

The new look has been an instant hit, both on and off the court.

“I tell you, these shirts are the rage,” Spedding said. “Everyone I know has been coming up to me asking where they can get one. Well, they're strictly for the players, but they're so popular that we might have to open a little business.”

The Chieftains' hard-core approach starts in the first-singles position with Stow sophomore Kaitlyn Clark, a year-round player who is ranked among the top 60 girls in New England in the under-16 age group. Clark's record on the season is identical to the team's, with one of her two losses a three-set tiebreaker against St. Peter Marian in the first match of the season that easily could have gone the other way.

“She's a great example of how a tennis player should look and play, from etiquette on the court to just the simple fact that she's good enough to win matches,” said Spedding, who ranks Clark as one of the top two players he's coached. (The other is 2003 Nashoba graduate Brittany Fallon, who as a sophomore led her Chieftains team to the Central Mass Division 1 title.)

At second singles is senior Victoria Walkoff, whose family recently relocated to Bolton from Pittsburgh. Stow junior Valerie Villegas-Hoag, who competes at third singles, is what Spedding called “an interesting asset.”

“Valerie really doesn't play tennis seriously outside of the season, yet she's able to win matches in her own unique way,” he said. “She keeps the ball in play for a long time and essentially waits for her opponent to make a mistake, and it works for her.”

Senior co-captain Olivia Smith and junior Michelle Slattery make up the first doubles team, with Stow senior (and soccer standout) Caroline Fraser joining senior co-captain Emily Huxtable at second doubles.

Two Stow sophomores who could be spending more time in the starting lineup before the end of the season are Sam Squires and Colleen Stevenson, who missed last season with an injury. The two teamed up on April 4 for a second-doubles victory against Marlboro. Katie Biegler, also a sophomore from Stow, notched a win at second doubles on April 14 against Groton-Dunstable.

Also waiting in the wings are a quartet of Stow freshmen: Cole Gibson, Lusan Dellagrotte, Christina Bebernitz, and Courtney Bailey. Gibson already has a varsity victory to her credit, as Biegler's doubles partner. All four are fast learners, Spedding said.

“You don't have to show them things 18 times. You show them once and they get it and move on to the next thing,” he said. “Those four are really going to be a large part of the future of our team.”

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