EAST PROVIDENCE — A year ago this month, the East Providence High School boys’ tennis team was coming off a two-win campaign and not expected to do very much during the upcoming Division …
EAST PROVIDENCE — A year ago this month, the East Providence High School boys’ tennis team was coming off a two-win campaign and not expected to do very much during the upcoming Division III regular season.
But by the time the Townies were done with their 2022 slate in early June they were the league champions, having defeated Chariho by a 4-2 in the D-III title match at Brown University to finish with a near-perfect 15-1 record and with the school’s first boys’ tennis trophy in exactly 20 years.
As the 2023 season starts this week, East Providence finds itself in a new league, D-II, though with the same lofty ambitions: to compete and potentially win another championship.
The Townies are confident for good reason. All four points in the title clinching match against Chariho were won by returnees, now juniors, James McShane, Brayden Rouette, Miguel Flores, Jaydon Amaral and Nathan Thurber.
McShane, who is likely to have earned the No. 1 singles position in time for EP’s 2023 opener this Friday afternoon at home versus Cranston West, claimed the decisive point. Rouette, who will play either from the second or third solo spot this spring, and Flores, the Townies’ likely No. 4, were also individual winners. Amaral and Thurber, on target to play second doubles in ’23, were victorious at first pairs.
Back in the fold as well and key contributors to the Townies’ championship run last spring are all also juniors: Jordan O’Hair, who played fourth singles last year and claimed the deciding point in EP’s semifinal playoff win over Providence Country Day, Jaydon Massa, who was half of the No. 3 doubles team, Jeff Diaz, Joseph Kramer and Angel Lucas.
“The encore is doing the best we can,” said first-year EPHS head coach Slade Sharma. Paul Amaral, who led the Townies to last year’s title, has retired. Sharma, a former Townie player, was his assistant. He moves up to the top job after having served as head coach of girls’ team last fall, when he guided EP to the D-III finals where the Townies lost to Bay View.
Sharma continued, “Obviously we have the division change. It’s not the same competition we’re facing. But we’re still wearing the ‘red and white.’ We’re still going to try to be the most successful program we can be. That was goal last year, and it worked out for us. As for the competition, we’re just going to take it match by match. Do our best every single match, put our best foot forward.”
The only contributor missing from last year is Adam Sullivan, who graduated after losing just one match while playing one half of the Townies’ No. 2 doubles team a year ago. Of note as well, Will Laroche, a junior who as a sub at second doubles against PCD in last spring’s semis won the only match he played all year, remains with the squad as team manager.
Three newcomers are firmly in the mix to be key members of the 2023 squad.
Abigail Ellison is a freshman out for the team because she plays soccer in the fall when the girls’ tennis season is held. She’ll play from one of the top three singles positions depending on the results of the pre-season ladder matches.
Sophomore John Vaughan comes to the team after playing baseball a year ago. He’s likely to slot in with O’Hara to form the No. 1 doubles tandem.
Junior Justin Petion, known for his proficient ping pong skills, joins the club after not having played a varsity sport of any type previously. He’s in line to team with Massa at third doubles.
“They all have a plethora of experience,” Sharma said of the rookies. “Abigail has taken lesson for three-and-a-half years. She’s a very good player.
"Justin is a kid we wanted on the team a year ago, but he didn’t want to commit to playing a varsity sport. He’s close with a lot of the kids. And I think the persistence of the kids is what got him on board. He’s never formally played tennis, but those ping pong skills have really transitioned well. Previously he was known as a ping pong legend in the school.
"John has played tennis pretty much his whole life. He comes from a tennis family. He played baseball last year, but he decided to play tennis this year. We happy to have him. He’s a great kid and an incredible tennis player.”
As for the change in scenery, the Townies move up to D-II with aforementioned and neighboring PCD along with West Warwick, whom EP beat in their playoff opener last spring. That trio joins holdovers Cranston West, Ponaganset, Middletown, Portsmouth, North Kingstown, Westerly, Prout, Narragansett, East Greenwich, Classical and Tiverton to form the new 13-team Division II. Reigning league champ Mount St. Charles, runner-up Smithfield and Cumberland were realigned into Division I.
Tiverton was the best of the bunch last spring, finishing with an 11-3 record. The Tigers lost to Mount 4-0 in the semis. Prout was 10-4, losing to Tiverton in the quarters in the 4-5 match. North Kingstown went 9-5 then both Middletown and Ponaganset were 8-6. Cranston West, Narragansett and Portsmouth each finished 5-9 while Classical and Westerly were 2-11.
“We’re going up with a couple of teams we’re familiar with. And we have a lot of kids who have been with the team and we’re also adding a lot of talent. We really are. So the message has been all along, yeah, I think we would have been incredibly successful had we stayed in D-III. But for them, I think it’s even more of a challenge to do just as good here (in D-II),” Sharma said of the jump up in competition.
Of the season ahead in general, he added, “We believe we can compete with every single team in this division They know that, and they’re hungry. They want to go at it. They want to be successful. One championship isn’t enough. That’s how they view it. And that’s how I view it.
"It’s not enough for them and it’s not enough for me. It’s the standard we’re trying to set. Every time we step on the court we’re representing East Providence and we want to bring home another title for our town. That’s why we’re here. That’s the mission. And everyone has taken that on really well.”
East Providence hosts the Falcons in its 2023 opener, and its first ever match at the new Townie Tennis Center, March 31 at 4 p.m. The locals spend next week on the road at Ponaganset, April 4, and in West Warwick, April 6, before returning home on Monday, April 10, to face Middletown at 3 p.m.