IR tennis readies for Henlopen Championship

The season schedule may be winding down for Indian River High School’s boys’ and girls’ tennis team, but their racquets are all but retired. There will be no time for relaxing this weekend as the teams head to the Sea Colony tennis club on Friday, May 9, to square off in the Henlopen Conference tournament, beginning at 1 p.m.

The boy’s varsity team has slipped since their victorious win over Caesar Rodney two weeks ago that put them in the running for first place in the conference. A tough battle against Seaford and a wavering match at Stephen Decatur, a pro-set team, marked some tallies in the unfavorable column this season, bringing their record to 10-3.

Plagued by an injury to a boys’ doubles team, head coach Pat Cicala was forced to move the guys around, and although they couldn’t seal the win against Decatur, he said he was impressed with the way his team stepped up on the courts.

“I can’t say enough about how well these kids play when they’re on the court. I’ve had guys – Matt Grey, Jack Cole, Ryan Bound – who hadn’t played all year, and I played them against Decatur, and they did very well for their first time on varsity. With no seniors on the team, it looks as though next season’s team will be a promising one.”

While pro sets are the norm for Stephen Decatur, IR’s teams are accustomed to multiple-set play, in which teams aim to win the best of three sets.

“Our kids are used to playing three sets,” said Cicala, “and it can be hard to adjust to something else.”

The Indians played tough, despite falling to the Maryland powerhouse.

“The thing we liked about it,” he said, “was that the first time we played them [in a scrimmage earlier this year], we got annihilated. The matches that we played against them the other day were lost by only one game. Their coach even pulled me aside at the end and said to me, ‘You know what? Your boys came to play today.’ And they did. After the loss to Seaford, they’ve put everything into these games.”

With the win over Caesar Rodney that put them in the running for the conference championship, Cicala knew they were a target.

“We’ve had the bull’s-eyes on our back,” he said. “Being a young team, and seeing how well we can play, there are other programs out to get us. The kids now understand what they have to do. They had never been in this winning position before, and now they know what they’re capable of.”

Since the start of the year, improving was the main goal for the coach.

“I’ve told them from the beginning,” he added, “it didn’t matter if we took the division or conference, I just wanted them to improve. Now, they not only want to show they had a good season, but they want to have a good showing to prove to people that it wasn’t just by luck.

“Our kids have really been stepping it up and challenging each other at practice. The key to our success this year was having talent and skills that were all so close to each other. It encourages the kids to really bring their best game,” he said.

Girls ready for
tournament action

Girls’ head coach Karen Oliphant has had a slightly rougher run this season, as her young team fought to find their comfort on the courts. With a 5-8 record on the season, and one more game pending (Polytech on Wednesday, May 7, after Coastal Point press deadline), the girls have struggled to capitalize in their matches.

Still, Oliphant said she was looking forward to the conference tournament.

“Most of my varsity will still play this weekend,” she noted. “The seeding for the tournament is tonight (Wednesday), so I’ll have to get my ducks in a row for that.”

She plans on her second-doubles team catching a piece of the seeding for this weekend’s tournament matches, as well as her three-year, first-singles starter.

“Ramsey Ruether could definitely be competitive when she gets in there. She can play with the best of them. She just needs to want it, and as long as that fire is under her, she will be alright.”

The past two seasons haven’t been walks in the park for Oliphant since she stepped up as head coach.

“It would be nicer this year if we had some more court space,” Oliphant said, “and if I was working with an assistant coach. Those are just some fairy-tale dreams, sometimes.” She and Cicala both commented on the lack of feeder programs for tennis in the area. Financial limitations primarily restrict these programs to operate through the school.

“We had a lot of position changing this year,” Oliphant said. “Between our doubles team and exhibition, the
competitiveness was right there. I’m hoping that a lot of the girls will continue this year with private lessons. They really didn’t get the practice and lessons they needed this season, with our schedule the way it was.”

Like the boys’ team, Oliphant’s is a young one.

“We basically have the same team returning,” said Oliphant. “They’ll be competing next year on an even higher level, so we have that to look foward to.”