After more than doubling its previous season’s win total in 2016, the Vikings hope to contend for a sectional championship with a senior-laden team in 2017.
By: Mike Monostra
Since 2011, every South Jersey Group IV champion in girls tennis has hailed from the Olympic Conference American Division. Cherokee High School, Lenape High School and Cherry Hill High School East have taken turns winning the South Jersey Group IV title over the past six years.
Now, Eastern Regional High School is ready for their turn.
The Vikings improved substantially last season, going from four wins in 2015 to nine wins in 2016. With most of last year’s varsity lineup returning in 2017, Eastern is hoping to take the next step forward and win a title.
“Every year, we want to get to the finals,” head coach George Kemery said. “Every year, it’s the Group IV finals. We’re a playoff team. Our record, as far as I’m concerned, is building toward the playoffs.”
The Vikings graduated just one 2016 varsity starter, first singles player Chrissy Barry. Taking over first singles this year is junior Serena Patel. Patel played third singles for Eastern last season, and Kemery saw a marked improvement in her game this preseason.
“I feel like she suffered from a lack of pace last year,” Kemery said. “She was a little too impulsive. This year, she’s less impulsive.”
Kemery feels Patel has competed well in the Vikings’ early scrimmage and believes she’ll grow into the first singles position over the course of the season.
Senior Bryn Caren will be back at second singles this year after playing in that position last year. Moving up to third singles this season will be senior Bianca Gennaoui. Gennaoui played second doubles last year with senior Hayley Beluch and the pair had a very strong season, dropping just one match against Cherry Hill East.
Eastern’s depth may be its biggest strength heading into 2017. Kemery talked about the importance of developing all of the players on the varsity and JV teams and not just the regular starters.
“We really focus on making sure our girls get a ton of experience,” Kemery said. “We make sure to create a tightly knit family.”
Kemery believes building team unity is crucial to the team’s success. He notes how tennis is an individual sport and girls in the same program can get competitive in the preseason, where intrasquad challenge matches determine starting positions on each team.
At the end of each preseason, Kemery emphasizes to the team how each player has a role to play on the team, whether it’s first singles or first doubles, and he expects each player to perform in whatever role she is in.
“We have to move forward as a team,” Kemery said. “If there’s a massive shift in performance, than I’ll make that change regardless of where it is.”
In recent seasons, Cherry Hill East and Lenape have been carrying the mantle in South Jersey Group IV, with at least one of the two schools reaching the sectional finals each of the last six years. However, Kemery is confident the Vikings can compete with any school in the Olympic conference. Eastern lost only two matches, 5–0, last year and came within one point of upsetting a pair of conference rivals, dropping tight 3–2 matches to Cherry Hill East and Shawnee at different points of the season.
“We’re never a team that gives away matches,” Kemery said. “We’re always going to compete hard.”
UPDATE: The Vikings have been one of the Olympic Conference’s top teams in the first two weeks of the season. Eastern is currently undefeated with a record of 5–0.