By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Hudson — With but one senior on the roster for the Hudson High School (HHS) girls’ varsity tennis team and an abundance of talent lost to graduation in 2016, this season could have been rather easily written off as a rebuilding campaign preparing the younger players a base for 2018.
Not so fast, say players and coaches. All that this squad of determined Hawks has done is to produce a robust 16-1 record that includes 11 straight victories before a 3-2 loss to top League contender Gardner High. The team is playoff-bound once again and ready to step into the spotlight of District Tournament competition and they’re doing it with unbridled zeal and determination.
“This year the more that the girls played they realized that they had something special here,” said 15-year head coach Carolyn Weed. “But we know that there are tough teams out there and we have to be ready to play each time. I’ve been super proud of them. They’re a confident team and they support each other which I think is important.
“As long as we try doing the right things every point and we work hard, control our footwork, control how we serve and construct points, if we can focus on those things, success is going to happen. It’s important to do the right things and put yourself in the best position possible.”
“We’re all really close on this team and get along great,” added junior co-captain and multi-sport athlete Elizabeth Billings. “It’s fun to come to practice and spend time with each other. We have a lot of chemistry and that’s been a big reason as to why we’ve been successful.”
A winning culture has long been established in Hawk tennis. Hudson girls have previously reeled off four straight Mid-Wach B championships and in 2016 advanced to Central Division 1 quarterfinals before a loss to Wachusett Regional ended their season.
“We have a great feeder system with our JV program here,” explained Weed. “We’re one of the few schools in central Mass. that has a JV program. The kids get a lot of attention. It’s nice to have that feeder system because it really helps out when players get to the varsity level.”
Captains’ responsibilities have fallen on the shoulders of Billings and senior Julia Smolowitz who have both embraced their roles and the trust that has been shown in them to provide strong leadership and a sense of team unity. Staying upbeat at all times is a major ingredient to success, says Weed.
“Julia leads by example. She’s really worked hard and the girls have really looked up to her. Elizabeth is the same way. She’s very mentally tough and never gets flustered out there. That’s good for the other girls to see. They’re a close team and that’s a lot to do with captain leadership.”
Weed has established a lineup that has more than gotten the job done. Smolowitz, Lauren Gasek and Billings, who has won all 15 of her matches, have more than met expectations in the one, two and three singles spots, respectively while Lauren Eadie / Kristine Young and Victoria Gibbs / Abby Gillespie have anchored first and second doubles successfully. Others being mixed and matched into the rotation are Ariana Jordan-MacArthur, Jaylene Hurley and Jillian Vickery. Vickery has earned a varsity roster spot as a freshman and will be counted on for years to come.
Playoff seedings and matchups are expected to be announced shortly and the excitement and gratification of achieving what some early on thought not possible is especially pleasing to Weed and her players. Confidence is high but cautiously subdued as the team prepares for the so-called “second season.”
“We built up a lot of momentum, but we knew we had to keep the hard work going because we knew that at any moment if we let up, we could be in trouble so we had to keep the hard work going,” said Smolowitz who joined the team as a freshman. “It would be really awesome to go deep in the playoffs because this team has worked hard and had a great season. We feel like we have the potential to go really far.”
“This is just an amazing group of girls,” Weed acknowledged. “They’re willing to learn. If you give them a correction, they try their hardest to do it. You can see the progression and the hard work put in and you can’t ask for more than that. They’re a fun group and an amazing group of young women. They’re going to be successful in life no matter what they choose.”