May 4, 2019, the boys tennis team sits silently on the bus drive home from the state championship, a runner-up trophy in hand. Seven seniors knowing they will never play a high school match again. The rest of the team hopefully looking to the off-season and a fresh start next spring.
At the front of the bus sits head coach Mark Naprstek. Naprstek knows what is coming.Losing seven seniors leaves the 2020 roster up for grabs. What he does not know is the other two hits the team would eventually take. The two varsity starters who were not seniors, the one-seed sophomore Morgan Donovan and the four-seed freshman Grant Gage, would both suffer injuries that would limit their playing abilities, causing one to transfer schools and the other to quit the sport altogether. The only constant from the near championship run is Naprstek.
When asked about the new lineup for this spring, Naprstek looked to the remainder of last year’s team to step up and become the new leaders.
Naprstek said, “While you can’t replace senior experience instantly, you can continue to work hard and build off what the past players have done. Hopefully the guys from last season returning have learned a bit from last year’s team and can be the new example for the years ahead.”
When asked about the returners on the 2020 roster, Naprstek said, “We have 3 players returning that saw varsity action last year and supposedly have been working on their games in off season. I guess we will see where they stand. Then we have some players who need to make a name for themselves.”
Sophomore Erich Huttinger said that “The new varsity team will be interesting for sure.We are now a young team that has room to grow. Coach [Naprstek] will know most of our strength and also what we need to work on for this season.”
Senior Coleman Reavey gave some examples of who he thinks will step up this year,“Last year, there were a lot of players such as Sam Shapiro, Collin Maddock, along with numerous Freshman, that might have never had the opportunity last year, but definitely have the skills to fill these roles. For Coach Naprstek, there might be some growing pains, but I believe as the season goes on he will put together a stronger team.”
Senior Sam Shapiro also acknowledged the new struggles the team will face and how Naprstek will help. Shapiro said, “He [Naprstek] will coach the players to prepare for the harder competition. He will most likely focus on strengthening our wins in doubles if our singles is weak compared to schools twice our size.”
All four of them knew that the most important thing to creating success for the team was practice. “We will work hard in practices in the beginning of the season to prepare for the tough opponents at state. Also to work on our mistakes from last season and correct them this season,” said Shapiro.
When asked about the success of the team, Reavey reflected upon the upset from last year’s championship and how Naprstek and the team will use it as motivation. He said “I thinkCoach Naprstek will harness this momentum by motivating the boys to try to get back to the playoffs this year. The loss was humbling and I believe Mark will use it to always keep us motivated during the season and remind us how much losing hurts.”
Naprstek elaborated on just how important the mental side of the tennis game is. Hesaid, “Tennis is a game of mental thought. Injecting players into uncomfortable situations and allowing guys the opportunity to lose as well as win is important. Physical skill and practice are a plus but being mentally positive after a loss or win is the key. Always look to get better. This sport is a mix of playing for yourself and a team. Each point counts in the end and your play andmental state is all part of getting better.”
Huttinger, Reavey, and Shapiro all agreed that the culture of the boys’ team is what really makes it all worth it. Huttinger said, “Throughout last season, everyone on the team bonded and really got along. Coach was a huge factor in that. His jokes and humor were what made last season so much fun. The group of boys returning this year are going to take the incoming freshman and show them what NDP boys tennis is truly about.”
Reavey talked about the culture of the team and how it will change this year. He said “I think Coach and the returning players have put together a very fun culture that is great to be a part of. Along with this, I believe that numerous returning players will bring a hard-working culture that cares a lot about the success of this team. This culture I believe will be huge for the team’s success this year and was somewhat lacking in previous years.”
Naprstek believes that it all comes down to how each individual works that influences the team as a whole. He said, “The level of success I feel is playing to your ability and potential.You work hard within yourself and learn how to develop points and strategy. Practice is intense and fun and if you are there and work hard then the season and seasons to come will fall into place.”
An entirely new varsity roster can oftentimes be quite scary going into a season. However this young team, led by an excellent guide in Naprstek, is hopeful for this spring and the years to come.