Coco Meserve of Brunswick strikes a forehand during practice on Monday at Brunswick High School. Eli Canfield/The Times Record

Editor’s note: This is the first high school spring sport overview that will appear this week. Coming Wednesday: Track and field.

High school tennis coaches and players are excited to return to action, even with so many unknowns present at the dawn of a new spring sports season.

“All the guys are just taking each opportunity to get better while enjoying themselves out there,” said Mt. Ararat boys tennis coach Jack Rioux, who took over the program in February 2020. “I don’t really know what to expect in terms of how this season will go.”

The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 high school spring sports season. While all sports are a go in 2021, some changes are in place. 

Players will have to wear masks at all times and adhere to a few rules changes.

For example, when players change sides, they will move only to the right side of the net in order to prevent any unnecessary contact with the other side. When players have to hand balls over to their opponents, they are being asked to put the balls on the racquet rather than exchanging by hand. Lastly, both teams will have to provide their own balls for warmups, compared to years’ past where the home team would provide balls. Home teams will still be providing match balls.

Schedules have also been adjusted to regionalized play so teams aren’t traveling on long bus rides.

Some teams are adjusting to smaller turnout as well.

“We only have seven players, which was certainly something I didn’t expect,” said Brunswick boys coach Chris Leighton, who is in his fifth year with the team. “We’re operating in a vacuum right now, but I’m happy with the progress we have been making.”

 Leighton is hoping to use this season to help further develop his players.

“I’m hoping to plant a real bug in them to continue playing the game throughout their life,” said Leighton. “I’ve been playing for 50 years, and I want them to enjoy the game as much as I have during my playing days.”

Brunswick girls coach Mary Kunhardt says her numbers are down, too, with a core group of eight. 

“We have a strong group of girls who are committed to building on their already impressive tennis skills,” said Kunhardt.

Morse boys tennis coach Steve Boyce said he is stressing flexibility and adaptability.

Morse returns a cast of players from the 2019 season, all of whom will be playing in positions on the ladder that they have never played at the varsity level.

Calvin Doherty of Brunswick winds up for a forehand during Monday’s practice at Brunswick High School. Eli Canfield/The Times Record

“We have good numbers with no shortage of a desire to improve and compete,” said Boyce. “Our players are looking forward to the challenge of moving up the ladder and experiencing a different level of tennis.”

Morse girls coach Barbara Boyce said her team has an abundance of new faces. 

“We have a lot of new faces and have been working on our fundamentals,” Barbara Boyce said. “I have been impressed with how this team works together at practice and how supportive they are of one another.”

Mt. Ararat girls head coach Sheila Bohlin has been impressed with the way her team has adapted and the effort to make things as normal as possible.

“At one of our early practices as we discussed qualities of a good captain, the goal of team bonding was repeated over and over as ideas poured out,” she said. “Everyone is so excited to be outdoors as a team, even if socially distanced.”

In years’ past, the Eagles would share a time slot with the boys team when practicing. This year, the teams are split into two practice times to help keep coronavirus safety modifications in place. 

“It’s nice having all five courts to distance out and play more ladder matches,” Bohlin said. “It’s very helpful for me as a coach to see how a player handles the pressure of a match that will affect her position on the team.”

Added: Rioux: “We can’t wait to get going, and I can’t wait to see the progress we will make over the course of the season.”

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