Mt. Hope girls make tennis history
PAWTUCKET — Mt. Hope High School tennis players Destinee DeSousa and Marissa Silva and their Coventry No. 1 doubles team counterparts were the lone players left competing on the Slater Park courts Sunday afternoon with the Division-Three, state-championship match outcome hanging in the balance with the score tied 3-3.
The two Mt. Hope athletes, playing in front of a crowd of about 75 people, probably 70 more fans than they’re used to having watch them play, claimed not to know their match was the difference-maker until coach Geoff Keegan told them during a break with the Mt. Hope pair up 5-2 in its third set.
It did them no good.
“Everyone was just standing there,” Silva said. “There was a lot of tension. It was nerve-racking.”
The Huskies duo dropped the next game to make it 5-3. But the Mt. Hope junior tandem won three consecutive points in the next game to reach match point. Playing at the net, DeSousa took advantage of a soft, floating return and smashed the ball down and out of reach of the Coventry pair for the final point.
The two players immediately embraced on the court as their teammates raced out and joined them in a large group hug. The 4-3 win gave the Huskies the state title, handed Coventry its first loss in 17 matches and improved Mt. Hope’s overall record to 16-1. It also was the first-ever time, in the regional school’s 20 years of existence, a girls’ tennis team won a state title.
“This is the first time in Mt. Hope history that we’ve won so it’s like awesome,” said Mt. Hope No. 4 singles player Simone Verria. “It’s like really awesome. Everyone is really happy about it.”
Keegan said, “Coventry was coming in undefeated. We knew it was going to be a tough battle. We knew it was probably going to come down to 4-3 which it did.
“The girls just kind of stayed focused, played tennis and ignored everything going on around them. They played the best they could and here we are.”
DeSousa and Silva had little reason to think their match would be the one which clinched the title, especially after they lost the first set to Briana Clift and Brenna McKaig 6-4.
“In the beginning we really didn’t communicate that much,” DeSousa said. “So that threw us off a little bit.”
The communication obviously improved the second set when the Huskies rebounded with a 6-4 win to forced a deciding set. The 6-3 final-set victory affirmed the communication, as well as the tennis playing, became more unblemished as the match wore on.
“The better we got the more excited we were,” Silva said. “We just knew that it was all about focus and keeping our composure.”
The entire match actually was as close as the final score. Coventry earned the first point and Mt. Hope tied it at 1-1. The pattern followed with the Oakers going up one only to have the Huskies coming back to tie. When Coventry took a 3-2 lead and needed just one more point to clinch, Verria took notice.
“When I was playing I saw the courts were cleared so I was really nervous,” Verria said. “I wasn’t sure of the exact score but I think it pushed me harder to win.”
Verria had little problem dispatching Amanda Cugno 6-1 in the opening set. But Cugno played tough the second set before bowing 6-4.
“She was equally matched with me so it was a challenge,” said Verria. “She was really good. She really ran me out. I started getting tired but even though I was exhausted I pulled through in the end.”
Coventry’s Ashley Fochler earned the first point of the day with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Haley Ferreira at third singles. Mt. Hope third doubles team of seniors Lauren Manual and Sophie Costa struck back by taking a 6-1, 6-4 match from Samantha Tripp and Lisa Thiele.
The tie was quickly broken when Ashley Ginda scored a 6-2, 6-1 second-singles win over Mt. Hope senior Aly Dion. That’s when Mt. Hope No. 1 singles player Lauren Fletcher again pulled the Huskies even with a 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Abby James.
Madison Sharkey and Shannon Oliver then put the Oakers up 3-2 with a 7-6, 6-4 win over Sarah Leger and Catherine McGee at No. 2 doubles. That set the stage first for Verria, then for the Silva-DeSousa tandem to bring home the victory.
“Even though in tennis you’ve got to play singles and doubles and it’s an individual sport (the Huskies) were a team,” Keegan said. “They knew they were still a team at the end of the day and they needed to come out here and play tennis.
“They needed to have each other’s backs and cheer each other on when we’re up and support each other when we’re down. The goal was always that we wanted the banner in the gym. It was a tough battle all season but they stayed focused. They played well all year.”